Former Afghan mayor pledges to fight for women's rights in exile

Temporarily housing for Afghan evacuees in Doha
Three young Afghan female university students who have fled their country pose for a photo, hiding their identity over safety concerns for family in Afghanistan, at a residential compound in Doha, Qatar, August 22, 2021. REUTERS/Alexander Cornwell

DUESSELDORF, Germany, Aug 24 (Reuters) - An Afghan mayor who fled to Germany said she would work in her host country to draw attention to the plight of those left behind who are living in fear of Taliban militants running Afghanistan.

Zarifa Ghafari, who was one of the country's first female mayors in Maidan Shahr west of Kabul until the Taliban seized power last week, thanked the German government and people for "saving" her life and that of her family.

"I am just here to raise the voice of those 99% of people in Afghanistan who are not able to come out of their houses, those women who are not able to work, those women who are not able to speak out," she said.

Ghafari was speaking in the western city of Duesseldorf where she met Armin Laschet, the chancellor candidate of Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in an election on Sept. 26.

Laschet, whose campaign to succeed Merkel as conservative chancellor has been faltering, has been criticised by rivals for saying that there must not be a repeat of Europe's 2015 migrant crisis when Merkel welcomed almost one million asylum seekers.

"She wants to fight for her country and tell everyone what has happened there," said Laschet, premier of the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, standing next to a tearful Ghafari at a hotel in Duesseldorf.

When they last held power, the Taliban strictly enforced their ultra-conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam that included banning women from going to school or working. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said last Tuesday that women "will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam".

Ghafari, who first fled to Istanbul with her family, said she was aware of the crisis of refugees and immigration in Germany, but added: "Me and my family, we are not here as migrants."

Her journey was facilitated by the German army, whose soldiers are helping German nationals, Afghans as well as activists and lawyers whose lives are in danger for helping NATO armies flee Afghanistan.

Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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