Prominent Afghan female official shot dead

JALALABAD, Afghanistan Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:48pm IST

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Unknown gunmen shot dead a senior female government worker on Monday, officials in eastern Afghanistan said, five months after her predecessor was killed in a bomb attack.

Violence against women appears to be on the rise in Afghanistan, which activists and some lawmakers blame on what they say is waning interest in women's rights on the part of President Hamid Karzai's government, claims he denies.

Nadia Sediqqi, acting head of the women's affairs department in Laghman province, was killed as she headed to work in the capital Mehtar Lam, said the provincial governor's spokesman Sarhadi Zwak.

"They shot her as she was getting into a rickshaw," Zwak said of the attack about 150 km (93 miles) east of Kabul, adding that she worked without bodyguards -- a common situation for female government workers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and employment since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, but fears are mounting that such freedoms could be traded away as Kabul seeks peace talks with the group.

Sediqqi had replaced Hanifa Safi, who was killed in July by a car bomb that her family blamed on the Taliban.

Women who pursue careers in ultra-conservative Afghanistan often face opposition in a society where often they are ostracised, or worse, for mixing with men other than husbands or relatives.

Safi's son later told Reuters that authorities had ignored repeated requests for protection, echoing greater concerns that the safety of female government workers is not taken seriously by Kabul, despite commitments to better the rights of women 11 years into the NATO-led war. (Reporting by Rafiq Shirzad, writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

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