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Thousands rally in Pakistan over rape law changes

More than 20,000 supporters of an Islamic alliance rallied today in Pakistan's port city of Karachi, demanding the government withdraw changes to a controversial rape laws.

More than 300 riot police were deployed to keep the peace, and more than 20,000 supporters of a six-party coalition of Islamic groups - Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal or United Action Forum - joined the rally in Karachi.

No violence was reported.

The protesters condemned President General Pervez Musharraf, many chanting ``Death to Musharraf,'' and one carried a sign reading, ``No to conspiracy for indecency and obscenity.''

Last week Musharraf signed into law some amendments to the Hudood Ordinance, a 1979 law against rape that human rights activists said persecuted rape victims rather than getting them justice.

The ordinance required a rape victim to produce four witnesses in court to prove her assault claim.

Under the new amendment, judges can choose whether a rape case should be tried in a criminal court - where the four-witness rule does not apply - or under the Islamic ordinance.

It also drops the death penalty for sex outside of marriage. The offence would now be punishable with five years in prison or a fine of 10,000 rupees.

Human rights groups have hailed the amendments but Muslim groups claim the measure goes against Islam. Opposition Islamic groups have held a series of protests against the new law since it was passed by Parliament last month.

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