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Pakistani Islamists vow to oppose reform of laws

Written by: Staff
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ISLAMABAD, Aug 24 (Reuters) An opposition alliance of Pakistani religious parties vowed today to launch a protest campaign to block the amendment of Islamic laws that liberals have long criticised as unfair to women.

The ruling party introduced a bill in parliament on Monday to amend the laws, one of which makes rape victims liable to prosecution for adultery unless they produce four male witnesses.

The laws, known as the Hudood Ordinance, were introduced in 1979 by military dictator Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq and have since drawn widespread criticism from rights activists.

But Islamic conservatives oppose any amendment.

''We will go in public and let them know that under the garb of this bill and women rights, the government is deviating from the Quran and Sunnah,'' said Liaqat Baluch, deputy leader of a six-party opposition alliance of Islamic parties.

The Quran is the Muslim holy book. The Sunnah is a compilation of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Mohammad.

Baluch said the government wanted to amend the laws because of foreign pressure.

''They are doing this under outside pressure. It is a foreign agenda and it has nothing to do with Pakistani people,'' he said. He did not elaborate but Islamists often accuse the United States of meddling in Pakistani affairs.

Rallies in various cities would be held, Baluch said.

Clerics across the country would also preach against the amendments at their Friday sermons, he said.

The laws laid down punishments for crimes such as rape, theft and adultery.

Under the code, a man and woman found guilty of having sex outside marriage could be sentenced to death by stoning or 100 lashes, while thieves would have their right hand amputated.

But those punishments have seldom been invoked, let alone carried out.

In Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, thousands of people attended a rally by a pro-government party supporting the amendment of the laws.

Leaders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement hit out at the Islamists opposed to amendments, saying they were against progress and the empowerment of women.

The bill proposing the amendments has been sent to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny. It is not clear when it will come up for debate.

President Pervez Musharraf, who promotes an ideology of ''enlightened moderation'', has assured rights activists he would back moves to amend or repeal the laws.

But with an election due by the end of next year, critics fear the government could lose some of its resolve should it need support from the Islamist opposition.

REUTERS PB RN2114

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