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Afghan women protest, brave stone-pelting

A group of some 1,000 Afghans swarmed a demonstration of 300 women protesting against a new conservative marriage law on Wednesday. The women were pelted with small stones as police struggled to keep the two groups apart.

world Updated: Apr 16, 2009 00:40 IST

A group of some 1,000 Afghans swarmed a demonstration of 300 women protesting against a new conservative marriage law on Wednesday. The women were pelted with small stones as police struggled to keep the two groups apart.

The law, passed last month, says a husband can demand sex with his wife every four days unless she is ill or would be harmed by intercourse — a clause that critics say legalises marital rape. It also regulates when and for what reasons a wife may leave her home alone.

Women's rights activists scheduled a protest Wednesday attended by mostly young women. But the group was swamped by counter-protesters — both men and women — who shouted down the women's chants.

Some picked up gravel and stones and threw them at the women, while others shouted “Death to the slaves of the Christians!” Female police held hands around the group to create a protective barrier.

The government of President Hamid Karzai has said the Shiite family law is being reviewed by the Justice Department and will not be implemented in its current form.

Though the law would apply only to the country's Shiites, it has sparked an uproar by activists who say it marks a return to Taliban-style oppression. The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, banned them from leaving home without a male relative.

Shiite backers of the law say that foreigners are meddling in private Afghan affairs, and Wednesday's demonstrations brought some of the emotions surrounding the debate over the law to the surface.

“You are a dog! You are not a Shiite woman!” one man shouted to a young woman in a headscarf holding aloft a banner that said, “We don't want Taliban law.” The woman did not shout back at the man, but told him: “This is my land and my people.”

Women protesting the law said many of their supporters had been blocked by men who refused to let them join the protest.

Fourteen-year-old Masuma Hasani said her whole family had come out to protest the law — both her parents and her younger sister who she held by the arm.

“I am concerned about my future with this law,” she said. “We want our rights. We don't want women to just be used.”