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Pakistan women's march organisers call for inquiry into rally attack

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Islamabad (AFP)

The organisers of a women's march in Pakistan called Tuesday for an independent investigation into a "coordinated attack" on their rally over the weekend.

Days of mounting tensions boiled over on Sunday when a group of Islamist counter-protesters in the capital hurled stones, bricks and sticks at a march marking International Women’s Day.

"It was a coordinated attack from the patriarchal and right-wing forces on the women’s movement," said Ismat Shahjahan, one of the organisers of the event.

"We demand an independent judicial inquiry," she added.

The capital’s police registered a case against 35 people late Sunday, including organisers of the anti-feminist Islamist rally for "provoking the religious sentiments" of their followers against the Women's Day marchers.

The march's organisers, however, have argued that police downplayed the severity of the attack and should have issued more serious charges against suspected assailants.

The incident follows last year's second annual "Aurat (Women's) march", which sparked a backlash against participants -- including rape and death threats.

In the days leading up to this year’s Islamabad rally at least two petitions were filed to the country’s higher courts asking for authorities to ban marches across the country, while Islamist political parties vowed to stop the demonstrations.

In a society where women have been shot, stabbed, stoned, set alight and strangled for damaging a family's "honour", marchers have been accused of promoting Western, liberal values and disrespecting religious and cultural sensitivities.

Much of Pakistani society operates under a strict code of "honour", systemising the oppression of women in matters such as the right to choose whom to marry, reproductive rights and even the right to an education.

According to estimates, at least 1,000 women fall victim to honour killings in Pakistan each year. Rights activists have long fought against the patriarchal notion of "honour".

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