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Thursday, September 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Turkish women confront Hughes, scold U.S. over Iraq

The Washington Post

ISTANBUL, Turkey — A group of Turkish female activists confronted Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes yesterday with heated complaints about the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, turning a session designed to highlight the empowerment of women into a raw display of anger at U.S. policy in the region.

"This war is really, really bringing your positive efforts to the level of zero," said Hidayet Sefkatli Tuksal, an activist with the Capital City Women's Forum. She said it was difficult to talk about cooperation between women in the United States and Turkey as long as Iraq was under occupation.

Hughes, a longtime confidante of President Bush with the job of burnishing the U.S. image overseas, has generally met with polite audiences — many of whom received U.S. funding or consisted of former exchange students — during a tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey this week.

In this case the U.S. Embassy asked Kader, an umbrella group that supports female candidates, to assemble the guest list. None of the activists currently receives U.S. funds and the guests apparently had little desire to mince words. Six of the eight women who spoke at the session, held in Ankara, the capital, focused on the Iraq war.

"War makes the rights of women completely erased and poverty comes after war — and women pay the price," said Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women's-rights activist. Vargun denounced the arrest of Cindy Sheehan, the activist mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, in front of the White House on Monday at an antiwar protest.

Hughes, looking increasingly pained, defended the decision to invade Iraq as a difficult and wrenching moment for Bush, but necessary to protect America.

"You're concerned about war, and no one likes war," she said. But, she said, "to preserve the peace sometimes my country believes war is necessary." She also asserted that women are faring much better in Iraq now than they did under the rule of deposed President Saddam Hussein.

Turkey, a member of NATO, has long been a close ally of the United States, but relations have soured during the Bush administration, especially after the Turkish parliament blocked a request to allow U.S. troops to stage an invasion of northern Iraq via Turkey. National-security adviser Stephen Hadley visited Ankara last week as part of a new effort by the White House to mend ties.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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