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Women's Day rallies seek improved rights for Afghans

Rallies marking International Women's Day have taken place around the world, with a focus on Afghanistan, where the right to education has been taken away from girls, and Iran, which has seen recent mass protests on women's rights.

In the Americas, reproductive rights were a key theme after the landmark Roe v. Wade United States abortion ruling was overturned last year and with abortion tightly restricted or banned in much of Latin America.

Activists donned purple and held demonstrations around the globe, from Jakarta and Singapore to Istanbul and Berlin, Caracas, and Mexico City.

In Manila, activists calling for equal rights and better wages scuffled with police blocking their protest.

"Girls just want to have fun...damental rights", read one poster.

Turkish police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters in Istanbul.

In Paris, demonstrators marched to demand better pensions for women who work part-time and in Tel Aviv women formed human chains to protest a judicial overhaul they fear will harm civil liberties.

Many protests included calls for solidarity with women in Iran and Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women's rights, and it has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere," Roza Otunbayeva, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement marking the day.

In London, protesters marched to the Iranian embassy in costumes inspired by the novel and television series The Handmaid's Tale, while in Valencia, Spain, women cut their hair in support of Iranian women.

The death last September of 23-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of morality police in Tehran unleashed the biggest anti-government protests in Iran in years.

In recent days, Iran's clerical rulers have faced renewed pressure as public anger was compounded by a wave of poisonings affecting girls in dozens of schools.

Iran has arrested several people it said were linked to the poisonings and accused some of connections to "foreign-based dissident media".

As Washington marked International Women's Day, the United States imposed sanctions on two senior Iranian prison officials it accused of being responsible for serious human rights abuses against women and girls.

Britain also announced a package of sanctions against what it described as "global violators of women's rights", while the European Union announced new sanctions on Tuesday.

In Spain, the government passed a pioneering law in December to make it easier to access abortions, but divisions in the feminist movement over issues such as transgender rights and prostitution led to competing rallies on Wednesday.

Some governments marked Wednesday with legislative changes or pledges.

Canada repealed historic indecency and anti-abortion laws, French President Emmanuel Macron said he backed the inclusion of the right to abortion in the constitution, and Ireland announced a referendum to remove outmoded references to women in its constitution.

Italy's first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, said state-controlled companies should have at least one leader who is a woman.

In Japan, which ranked 116 out of 146 countries on gender parity in a World Economic Forum global report last year, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said progress had been made on improving women's working conditions but more had to be done.

In Russia, where International Women's Day is one of the most celebrated public holidays, the head of its upper house of parliament used the occasion to launch a vehement attack on LGBTQI lifestyles.

"Men and women are the biological, social and cultural backbones of communities," Valentina Matviyenko wrote in a blog on the Federation Council's website.

"Therefore, there are no dangerous gender games in our country and never will be. Let us leave it to the West to conduct this dangerous experiment on itself."