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First Lady Says Fall of Taleban Gives Afghan Women New Opportunities - 2001-11-17

President Bush's wife Laura says the fall of the Taleban government in Afghanistan is a chance to restore "dignity and opportunity" for Afghan women and chldren. Mrs. Bush used the president's weekly radio address to call for a worldwide campaign focusing on the repression terrorism brought to Afghanistan.

Mrs. Bush says the fall of the Taleban ends a "hard and repressive" government where mothers could be beaten for laughing out loud and Afghan children could not fly kites. "Afghan women know, through hard experience, what the rest of the world is discovering: The brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists," she said.

Mrs. Bush says fighting brutality against women and children is not a matter of culture or religion. Muslims around the world have condemned Taleban repression, she says, because it is not representative of Islam in most countries where women make important contributions.

"Only the terrorists and the Taleban forbid education to women. Only the terrorists and the Taleban threaten to pull out women's fingernails for wearing nail polish. The plight of women and children in Afghanistan is a matter of deliberate human cruelty, carried out by those who seek to intimidate and control," he said.

This was the first time a president's wife has used the weekly radio address by herself. Nancy Reagan and Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke along with their husbands.

Laura Bush's comments about the plight of women in Afghanistan comes at the same time as a report from the U.S. State Department criticizing the Taleban for blocking employment and educational opportunities for women.

Mrs. Bush says the cruelty of life under the Taleban is an example of the repression terrorists wants to spread. "Civilized people throughout the world are speaking out in horror - not only because our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan, but also because in Afghanistan, we see the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us," she said.

Taleban leaders fled the Afghan capital ahead of advances by fighters from the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance. The Taleban has been supporting the al-Qaida group and its leader Osama bin Laden, who President Bush says is the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Mrs. Bush says Afghan women are rejoicing in the fall of the Taleban. "Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet, the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women," she said.

The president and Mrs. Bush are at their ranch in Texas following a visit from Russian President Vladmir Putin. They return to Washington on Sunday.