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Karzai Orders Review of Controversial Afghan Marriage Law

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he has ordered a review of a new law that critics say could legalize marital rape and restrict women's rights.

President Karzai said the Justice Ministry will study the law "very carefully." He vowed that if there is anything of concern, it will be sent back to parliament. The Afghan leader said concerns may have arisen because of mistranslation or misinterpretation.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday was among several world leaders who sharply criticized the law, which is intended to regulate family life within Afghanistan's Shi'ite community.

At a news conference in France, Mr. Obama called the law "abhorrent" and said his administration's views had been communicated to the Karzai government.

The United Nations Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, said the legislation bars women from refusing sex with their husbands unless they are sick, and it forbids them from leaving their homes without their husband's permission.

Some Afghan lawmakers said the final version of the law, which has yet to be published, includes amendments allowing women to leave the home and refuse sex with their husband.

Critics said Mr. Karzai's government quickly approved the law to gain the support of leaders of the Shi'ite religious community, and the Hazara ethnic minority. The groups could be a swing vote in the presidential elections in August.

Although Afghanistan's constitution calls for equal rights for men and women, it also allows the Shi'ite community, which makes up about 20 percent of the population, to have a separate family law based on religious tradition.

Britain, Canada and France have also expressed concern about the law. And Italian officials said Saturday that Italy could bring home its female NATO soldiers in Afghanistan in protest of the law.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.