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Malala joined by bus attack friends

Schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, said her fight for universal education has been empowered as two of her friends who were also injured in the attack joined her campaign.

Malala, 16, was shot in the head while travelling on a school bus in Pakistan last October as her outspoken views on education and women's rights got her into trouble with the Afghan group.

At Edinburgh University today she addressed the first public meeting of the Global Citizenship Commission, a body of leaders representing politics, religious institutions, law and philanthropy.

She was also awarded with an honorary masters degree from the university and the Carnegie Award for Wellbeing for her work promoting education and women's rights.

She was joined in McEwan Hall by school friends Kainat Riaz and Shazia Ramzan. The three, who all now live and study in the UK, met for the first time since the bus attack on their trip to Scotland today.

Malala was guest of honour at the public meeting of the commission, which is a joint initiative between former prime minister Gordon Brown, New York University and Carnegie UK Trust.

She received a standing ovation from the 1,000-strong audience as she lifted her honorary degree into the air.

She said: "Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to talk to you today. I'm here for the first time and it's really nice to see Scotland, I'm enjoying to see the hills, small hills, because we have mountains in Pakistan.

"After I was shot the terrorists thought that I would not continue the struggle for education, but not only did I not stop my campaign but now Kainat and Shazia are with me and they are also supporting me. They are not afraid, we are not afraid and now people are supporting us and that is the greatest courage, and that is the weapon that we have got, the unity and togetherness.

"For achieving any goal, people must be united, they must work together and that is why I feel empowered."

After the attack Malala was treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and has now settled in the city with her family.

Her confidence had the audience applauding in Edinburgh as she said: "My studies are going well, I'm in year ten and have GCSEs coming up and hope I will get straight As.

"I also want to go to a university, maybe this one."

The commission has been set up to discuss global developments since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed in 1948.

At its inaugural session Mr Brown, UN envoy for global education and MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said he wants it to be about implementing human rights rather than talking about them abstractly, and wants it to discuss what governments and international institutions can do to help those people exploited or denied their rights.

Following a question and answer session with commission members including Nobel peace laureate Mohammed El Baradei and former president of Ghana John Kufour, Mr Brown welcomed Malala and her two friends on to the stage.

He said: "She is seen as a symbol around the world for courage and bravery and resilience, of someone prepared to make a huge sacrifice for a cause.

"She has proved to us that neither threats, intimidation or violence will ever silence her voice to speak up for what she believes, and what I believe, is one of the great civil rights struggles of our time.

"I'm so pleased to see her reunited with Shazia and Kainat, two young women equally determined that every girl and boy should enjoy the most basic of human rights: a secure, safe place at school.''

They were joined on the stage by Malala's father Ziauddin and Scottish doctor Fiona Reynolds who was helping set up a liver transplant service in Pakistan when she was asked by the government to help treat Malala after she had been shot.

Dr Reynolds said: "She was a fantastic patient, she was in a foreign country without her parents and was speaking her third language but I never saw her upset.

"She was incredibly brave and I find her a combination of a knowledgeable international stateswoman and a teenager who fights with her brothers. I think she's an incredible young woman."

Voted one of the 100 most influential people in the world, Malala began blogging for the BBC in 2009 about her life in Pakistan's Swat Valley region and her desire to attend school safely and freely.

Her increasing profile in the global media and her campaigns for universal education and women's rights brought her to the attention of the Taliban which tried to kill her in an attack on her school bus.

She needed emergency treatment and surgeons who treated her said she came within inches of death when the bullet grazed her brain in the shooting.

Malala raised laughs and applause from the commission and the audience when she told them she wanted to become a politician. Mr Brown joked that he could give her some tips on what not to do.

She said: "I have been doing a lot of speaking on education and women's rights so it's really embarrassing when I go to my own school and say to the teacher 'sorry miss I need to miss school for one more day to do some talks'.

"It's hard because then I need to catch up and make sure I do my homework on time. When it comes to tests I need to study hard and make sure I get straight As so that I can become what I want to be.

"I want to be a politician, rather than standing outside the parliament demanding rights I want to go inside and make it happen."

Since the attack she has also addressed the United Nations and was nominated for the Nobel peace prize.

The 16-year-old's trip to Scotland was slightly delayed because she attended a Buckingham Palace reception yesterday to meet the Queen.

Malala spoke about the importance of education and gave the Queen a copy of her book, I Am Malala. The Queen described her as "wonderful".

The teenagers were going on to join Mr Brown at a topping-out ceremony for a new primary school in Burntisland, Fife.


From Belfast Telegraph