Pakistan's government has delayed presenting a bill to parliament to amend controversial Islamic rape laws.
Islamabad says it postponed the presentation of the bill to win broader support in parliament. But human rights and opposition groups expressed outrage, saying the government bent under pressure from the fundamentalist Islamic parties, which oppose any changes.
The proposed amendments would remove the clause that requires woman rape victims to produce four male witnesses. The amendments will also ban sex with a girl under the age of 16, with or without her consent.
Last week, the government and an alliance of Pakistani Islamist parties agreed to a compromise that would permit women who have four witnesses to try the cases in Islamic courts. Victims without the four witnesses can prosecute suspected rapists in civil courts.
The laws, commonly known as the Hudood Ordinance, were introduced by military ruler Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.
Human rights groups have long demanded the government completely scrap the law. President Pervez Musharraf assured them that he would back the move.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.