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Afghan's Karzai says will amend controversial law

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Monday the Justice Ministry was amending a controversial law which contains harsh provisions on women that critics have called a step back towards Taliban-era controls.

The law, which applies to Shi’ite Muslims who make up about 15 percent of Afghanistan’s population, requires women to satisfy their husbands’ sexual desires. Opponents say this could be used to justify marital rape.

Other controversial passages require wives to get permission when leaving the home unless for employment, education or medical reasons, and allow a man to order his wife to wear make-up.

Karzai said the law would be changed to bring it in line with the constitution, which guarantees equal rights for women, and international treaties the country has signed.

“The law is under review and amendments will take place,” Karzai told a news conference with visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

“I assure you that the laws of Afghanistan will be in complete harmony with the constitution of Afghanistan, and the human rights that we have adhered to in our constitution and in the principles of the international treaties,” he added.

The legislation sparked an outcry from leaders of Western countries with troops in Afghanistan, including U.S. President Barack Obama who called it “abhorrent”.

Karzai signed the law earlier this year, but on Sunday he told women activists he did not fully understood it at the time, the activists said.

The disputed passages are buried in the 239-page law, much of which is written in complicated Islamic theological language.

Some lawmakers have accused Karzai of signing it hastily because he faces an election on August 20 and wants to curry favour with Shi’ite voters, who can swing the contest.

They say he may find it hard to scupper the legislation without offending some powerful Shi’ites.

Reporting by Jonathon Burch, writing by Emma Graham-Harrison, Editing by Dean Yates