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Saudi woman. the VICTIM, gets 200 lashes

          President George W. Bush has no closer personal friend who heads a foreign state than King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Bush hosted him at Camp David, at the White House, and at his Crawford, Texas, ranch. In a 2005 encounter with the leader of the oil-rich state, Bush was seen holding hands with the king.

        Now, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wants to succeed Bush, has called on the president to intercede with his friend, and have the charges dropped against a woman who was gang raped in the kingdom but is sentenced to receive 200 lashes.

          Originally, she was sentenced to 90 lashes; but the punishment was increased by the Saudi justice ministry because she appealed the sentence. Some believe this was also a Saudi reprisal for causing the episode to reach the media.

          Clinton calls the sentence an "outrage." The Bush administration refuses to condemn it, she said, "and said it will not protest an internal Saudi decision." The woman was blamed for the episode because she was found to be in the company of a man who was not a relative or a guardian.

           A U.S. State Department spokesman voiced "astonishment" at the sentence but declined to go further. Clinton's top rival, Sen. Barak Obama of Illinois, raised the issue with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. Since Clinton sounded the alarm, other Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have denounced the sentence.

      The French news agency, AFP, noted that Saudi Arabia enforces a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism and forbids unrelated men and women from associating with each other, bans women from driving and requires them to cover head-to-toe in public.

   The woman's assailants, six Saudi men, were initially sentenced to between one and five years in jail for the rape, AFP said. Their sentences were stiffened to between two and nine years in prison, but they escaped the death penalty.

    In March, 2006, the woman was 18 and engaged to be married. She and a man to whom she was not related were abducted from a mall by seven men, who later raped her. Human Rights Watch also called on Abdullah to void the verdict against the woman and the sentence.

   ---Douglas Turner

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