- - 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.


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.


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.

Mr. Chavez offered the update on his health in a phone call Tuesday from Cuba that was broadcast live on Venezuelan state television, saying his “innards” were “a little hurt” in the Feb. 26 operation but that he is feeling better.

The 57-year-old president has said the surgery removed a new tumor that appeared in the same spot in the pelvic region where a tumor was surgically removed eight months ago.

“This week that passed … was a little difficult. Well, you know that fortunately I’m continuing to recover,” Mr. Chavez said. “I’m recovering with the grace of Holy God and the Virgin … the love of all of you, medical science, to continue fighting this battle.”

Mr. Chavez has said he next plans to undergo radiation therapy treatment, though it’s unclear how soon that could begin.


Culture minister ousted after 15 years

HAVANA — Cuban state media announced Tuesday that the government has replaced charismatic Culture Minister Abel Prieto, a well-known writer, professor and intellectual who has been in the role since 1997.

Mr. Prieto was named an adviser to President Raul Castro, an indication that he remains in favor, and Deputy Minister Rafael Bernal was promoted to replace him.

The announcement published by the Communist Party daily Granma noted Mr. Prieto’s “experience and the positive results obtained in the exercise of his office.”

Since 2010, Mr. Prieto, 61, has appeared increasingly thin amid rumors of ill health. No reason for his replacement was given.


Suu Kyi woos army during campaign stop

NAYPYITAW — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi assured Myanmar’s military on Tuesday that she seeks no confrontation with it as she ended a two-day campaign trip to the capital.

Ms. Suu Kyi spoke Tuesday at two rallies on the outskirts of the capital, Naypyitaw, a stronghold of the ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Her National League for Democracy is fielding candidates for all 48 seats at stake nationwide in April 1 by-elections, including four in the capital.

The seats in Naypyitaw were vacated last year by members of the ruling party who took senior government positions: President Thein Sein, Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann and Agriculture Minister Myint Hlaing.

In a 30-minute speech in Pobba Thiri township, Ms. Suu Kyi reached out to members of the military, saying she welcomes them and that her party does not oppose the institution. Ms. Suu Kyi’s father was Gen. Aung San, a martyred independence hero.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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