The Week Ahead: Jihad threat over backing for Bangladeshi feminist

MUSLIM fundamentalists in Bangladesh are whipping themselves into a frenzy over the growing support among artists and politicians for the feminist writer Taslima Nasreen, who was quoted as saying she wanted the Koran thoroughly revised.

Fundamentalists have threatened her with death and called for protest marches to converge on the capital, Dhaka, with a huge rally on Friday. They warn India and the West that they will launch a jihad (holy war) against them because of their support for Ms Nasreen. Spearheading the campaign is the leader of the 13-party Islamic Alliance, Moulana Mohiuddin Khan, who says that unless a blasphemy law is speedily introduced, 'the faithful will put the infidels on trial in all the mosques'. And the head of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Moulana Matiur Rahman Nizami, appealed to the faithful to turn 'mosques into forts of the Islamic movement'.

Nasreen, whose book Shame is banned by the government, denies saying anything about revising the Koran, but that she merely wanted changes in strict Islamic laws to give more rights to women. She went into hiding last month to escape arrest, since when many artists - including the German writer Gunther Grass - have leapt to her defence. Last week they called for 'laws that will make the use of religion against writers and for politics a criminal offence.'

The Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) opens the inaugural meeting of its 18-nation regional security forum in Bangkok today. The US, China, Russia and the EU will discuss security with Japan and other countries in the region. The initiative is endorsed by the US, which describes the meetings as 'exercises in preventive diplomacy'.

Immediate concerns are conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, fear that North Korea may be about to become a nuclear power, and the situation in Cambodia. The US is not too happy about Asean's desire to draw Burma back into the fold.

Turkey's President, Suleyman Demirel, begins a three-day visit to Iran today. In a pre-visit interview with the Turkish Daily News President Rafsanjani of Iran said he welcomed the chance to help Mr Demirel with his Kurdish problem if the Turks could give some assistance over his own difficulties with the dissident Mujahedin Khalq guerrillas. 'We believe Turkey and Iran should not allow antagonistic elements to use the territory of one country to attack the territory of the other. If there is anything that jeopardises the security of the region the two countries should co-operate to destroy it,' he said. Secular Turkey and Islamic fundamentalist Iran were uneasy neighbours until last year. Ties improved when Iran began helping Turkey in its fight against separatist Kurds. They should improve even more if Turkey checks anti-Iranian dissidents on its own soil.

The dying embers of Central America's civil wars fling out a few sparks this week. A UN report into the activities of El Salvador's death squads is to be handed to President Armando Calderon Sol. The report will probably name proven death squad members and urge further investigation of a number of suspects.

And, still subjected to US pressure, Nicaragua has until Sunday to satisfy demands of US nationals for the restitution of property confiscated during Sandinista rule, or provide compensation, otherwise Washington may withhold dollars 60m ( pounds 40) aid.

(Photograph omitted)

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