- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 12, 2005

SAUDI ARABIA

Top cleric bans forced marriages

RIYADH — The kingdom’s grand mufti has banned the practice of forcing women to marry against their will, calling for the imprisonment of violators, the official Saudi Press Agency reported yesterday.

“Forcing a woman to marry someone she does not want and preventing her from wedding that whom she chooses … is not permissible” under Islamic law, said Sheik Abdul Aziz Al Sheik, who heads the Council of Senior Ulema (scholars), the kingdom’s highest religious authority.

The top Muslim cleric said anyone who does not give up this pre-Islamic practice “should be punished by imprisonment and should not be released until he drops his demand, which contravenes the provisions of Shariah.” In public, Saudi women are required to cover themselves from head to toe in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom, where they also are banned from driving.

IRAN

Bill permits abortion of handicapped

TEHRAN — Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament adopted a bill yesterday to allow abortions in limited cases, despite opposition from religious pro-life lawmakers, in an effort to stamp out a booming but dangerous backstreet business.

It specifies that “abortion will be allowed … within four months of gestation if the fetus is mentally or physically handicapped … or the mother’s life is in danger.”

The bill was passed despite opposition from religious pro-life lawmakers but remains subject to approval by the Guardians Council, a conservative religious body that vets legislation to ensure it conforms to Islamic law and the constitution.

EGYPT

Rights group urges lifting of ‘emergency’

CAIRO — The Egyptian government has come under pressure from one of its human rights groups over charges of torture and calls for lifting the 24-year-old state of emergency.

The National Supreme Council for Human Rights, appointed by the government last year, corroborated widespread charges that government security forces torture prisoners. In its first annual report, the council urged a “rapid end to the state of emergency” to permit participation in the constitutional referendum, the presidential and parliamentary elections “in a neutral and secure atmosphere within the framework of common law.”

President Hosni Mubarak has called for a constitutional amendment to allow for a direct presidential election. A new president is to be elected in September and a new parliament later this year.

Weekly notes

A North Korean freighter struck rocks off Algeria during a Mediterranean storm, leaving five crew dead and four missing yesterday, national radio reported. The engine of the Lujin II failed Monday and the vessel broke in two when it was driven by a tempest onto rocks off Ras El Maghreb between Jijel and Skikda, the radio said. A Spanish helicopter and four Algerian sailors and a rescue diver were looking for the missing crewmen after 14 survivors were lifted from the ship to safety, the broadcast added. … Warsaw decided yesterday to withdraw Polish troops from Iraq at the end of the year, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced. “At the expiry of the Security Council’s mandate — meaning at the end of 2005 — the operations of the Polish stabilization mission should be finished,” he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting. Poland has 1,700 soldiers in south-central Iraq.

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