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Pakistani women defy threats, run mixed marathon

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For Nabila Rafique, the race wasn't about finishing first. She ran and walked the course wearing a traditional salwar kameez (loose-fitting tunic) with a shawl. As she focused on putting one foot in front of the other, she paid little heed to the throngs cheering on the curbs - or the armed police posted at every corner.

"This is just for the experience," says Mrs. Rafique, who felt her victory in Sunday's Lahore Marathon was won at the word "Go!"

For weeks, Islamist groups had tried to ban women from the race. On Friday police arrested more than 400 people when a protest against the marathon turned violent. The controversy shook this city of 8 million, raising concerns that violence would disrupt the race, which was designed as a fundraiser for quake victims.

The threat only underscored for many the symbolic importance of the race.

"Though we are afraid, we are running," says Ethiopian star runner Ashu Kasim, who is Muslim. "We can have our faith and we can run."

The race went off without incident. The only challenge to some 6,000 police was controlling the exuberance of the crowds, who cheered more than 15,000 runners.

But the fears of violence were not unfounded. Since the inaugural Lahore Marathon was held last January, allowing men and women to run together for the first time, marathons have emerged as one of the most contested battlegrounds in a country struggling to define its Islamic identity.


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