The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women brave Islamist threat, race at Lahore

Lahore, Jan. 29 (Reuters): Thousands of police guarded a road race in Pakistan today that passed off peacefully after a crackdown on Islamists who had threatened to disrupt it because women were among the runners.

About 450 police commandos in running gear were among the thousands of runners who took part in the run through the streets of Lahore.

The runners included several hundred women, who took part despite threats to disrupt the run by Islamists who deemed their participation an affront to their strict interpretation of Islam.

Most of the women wore a tracksuit or traditional shalwar kameez and a headscarf.

Senior superintendent of police Aamir Zulfikar, who was in charge of the security operation involving a total of 5,000 police officers, said it had passed off peacefully.

Dozens of activists from the opposition Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal Islamist alliance were detained ahead of the race to prevent disturbances after their leaders vowed to protest against the participation of men and women in the same race.

MMA leaders said yesterday that several hundred activists had been detained, but police put the number at a few dozen.

One female participant, Asma Hussain, said she had not felt intimidated, but other women had stayed away.

“I felt confident after seeing the security arrangements,” she said. “But many other women wanted to take part but did not come because of the threats.”

She said the race should be held every month rather than once a year to encourage more women to participate.

Authorities say such events are being held to promote Pakistan’s effort to present itself as a moderate Islamic state.

President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism who is championing this policy, said last year that people who objected to women taking part in sports in public should switch off their televisions.

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