Veiled protest: Afghan women rally in support of the Taliban

Kabul: Afghan women wearing full face veils sat in rows at a Kabul university lecture theatre Saturday, pledging commitment to the Taliban's hardline policies on gender segregation.

About 300 women -- covered head-to-toe in accordance with strict new dress policies for education -- waved Taliban flags as speakers railed against the West and expressed support for the Taliban policies.

A handful wore blue burqas, which have only a small mesh window to see from, but most wore black niqabs covering most of the face apart from the eyes.

Many also wore black gloves.

Women's rights in Afghanistan were sharply curtailed under the Taliban's 1996-2001 rule, but since returning to power last month they have claimed they will implement a less extreme rule.

This time, women will be allowed to attend university as long as classes are segregated by sex or at least divided by a curtain, the Taliban's education authority has said.

They must also wear an abaya robe and niqab.

Permitted Pro-Taliban protest

The women, who organisers said were students, listened to a series of speeches at Shaheed Rabbani Education University in the capital, Kabul.

Large Taliban flags flanked the podium, as the female speakers criticised women who have protested across Afghanistan in recent days.

They also defended the new government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which has banned demonstrations unless permission is granted by the justice ministry.

Daud Haqqani, director of foreign relations at the education ministry, said the protest was organised by the women, who had asked and been granted permission to demonstrate.

'Not freedom'

"We are against those women who are protesting on the streets, claiming they are representative of women," said the first speaker, covered head to toe.

"Is it freedom to like the last government? No, it is not freedom. The last government were misusing women. They were recruiting women just by their beauty," she claimed. – AFP