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Council picks anger Afghan women

KABUL -- The opening celebrations over, Afghanistan's constitutional council hit its first controversy yesterday, with female delegates accusing their colleagues of trying to shut them out of leadership positions.


After much wrangling, one woman was granted a deputy chairman's position, but some still expressed anger, alleging second-class treatment.

"From the very beginning, the process was flawed because we are totally outnumbered here by the men," said Palwasha Hassan, a delegate from Kabul. "It was symbolically important for a woman to be in a high position, but the bigger battle will be over the constitution."

Women's rights are a hot-button issue for the council, or loya jirga, which began Sunday in a huge tent on the grounds of a Soviet-built university in Kabul. Some 500 delegates are meeting to hammer out a new charter, a major milestone ahead of elections scheduled for June.

The council is taking place under intense security, with hundreds of soldiers lining the roads and helicopters hovering overhead. At least two explosions echoed across Kabul early this morning, and a spokesman for international peacekeepers said an investigation was underway.

There had been threats that Taliban insurgents might target the council, but its first two days had passed without problems.

The exact location of the blasts, at about 12:50 a.m., was unclear. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The peacekeepers said a missile was fired toward its downtown headquarters Saturday, landing well short and causing no injuries.

After a day of procedural back-and-forth, delegates selected three men -- Mirwais Yasini, Mohammed Ahzam Dadfar, and Mawlawi Qiamddim Kashaf -- to fill deputy chairman positions. Another man, moderate former president Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, was selected chairman on the council's opening day Sunday.

The voting produced outrage from many of the women delegates.

"It is a betrayal of women," said Jameela Mujahed, a delegate from Kabul and the first female radio news anchor to go back on the air after the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime.

Mujaddedi later broke with protocol and selected a woman -- Safia Sediqi, a lawyer from eastern Nangarhar Province -- to a created fourth deputy position. He named two other women as deputy's assistants.

Several women delegates said they were satisfied but determined to fight on to ensure women's rights that were eroded under the Taliban. The religious militia barred girls from school and banned women from all public life.

Others said it was a black mark that no woman was able to win a leadership position outright in the voting.

"In this tent, we are 100 women against 400 men. But we represent more than 50 percent of Afghan society," said Nadira, a female delegate from Kabul.

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