- - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

KABUL — Afghanistan’s president on Tuesday endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by an influential council of clerics that activists say represents a giant step backward for women’s rights in the country.

Hamid Karzai’s endorsement of the Ulema Council’s document, which allows husbands to beat wives under certain circumstances and encourages segregation of the sexes, is seen as part of his outreach to insurgents like the Taliban.

Both the U.S. and Mr. Karzai hope that the Taliban can be brought into negotiations to end the country’s decade-long war. But activists worry that gains made by women since 2001 may be lost in the process.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 U.S. invasion, girls were banned from going to school and women had to wear burqas that covered them from head to toe. Women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative as an escort.

The “code of conduct” issued Friday by the Ulema Council as part of a longer statement on national political issues is cast as a set of guidelines that religious women should obey voluntarily. Activists are concerned it will herald a reversal of the trend in Afghanistan since 2001 to pass laws aimed at expanding women’s rights.

BANGLADESH

Gunman kills Saudi diplomat

DHAKA — A Saudi diplomat was fatally shot on a residential street in Bangladesh’s capital early Tuesday, and authorities say the gunman and a motive were unknown.

However, if the killing is not deemed a street crime, speculation could turn to Iran, which has been blamed for other international attacks as it struggles against Saudi Arabia for dominance in the Middle East.

Shortly after midnight, Khalaf bin Mohammed Salem al-Ali was found just 30 yards from his home in Dhaka’s Gulshan neighborhood, police official Kamrul Hasan said. He had bullet wounds to his chest and was taken to a hospital, where he died.

A security guard at his home, Taposh Rema, told reporters Mr. al-Ali used to roam around by a bicycle at night but went outside on foot late Monday. Two other security guards near the crime scene told reporters they heard one gunshot and found Mr. al-Ali lying on the street.

The Bangladeshi government said it was monitoring developments in the investigation of the killing of Mr. al-Ali, a 45-year-old official in the Saudi Embassy’s consular section.

VENEZUELA

Chavez says he’s recovering after cancer surgery

CARACAS — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said his first week after undergoing cancer surgery was a bit difficult but that he is recovering smoothly.

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