Fears blight 'Malala Day' in schoolgirl's hometown
MINGORA, Pakistan - As the world prepared to mark "Malala Day" on Saturday, November 10, to support the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education, security fears in her hometown meant her schoolmates could not honour her in public.
Taliban hitmen shot Malala Yousafzai on her school bus a month ago in Mingora in Pakistan's northwestern Swat Valley in a cold-blooded murder attempt for the "crime" of campaigning for girls' right to go to school.
Miraculously the 15-year-old survived and her courage has won the hearts of millions around the world, prompting the UN to declare Saturday a "global day of action" for her.
People around the globe are expected to hold vigils and demonstrations honouring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school.
But in Mingora, the threat of further Taliban reprisals casts a fearful shadow, and students at Malala's Khushhal Public School were forced to honour her in private.
"We held a special prayer for Malala today in our school assembly and also lit candles," school principal Mariam Khalid told AFP.
"We did not organise any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat."
Though their bid to kill Malala failed, the Taliban have said they will attack any woman who stands against them and fears are so great that Khalid said even speaking to the media could put students' lives in danger.
Malala rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC charting life in Swat under the Taliban, whose bloody two-year reign of terror supposedly came to an end with an army operation in 2009.
Despite the dangers, some children in Mingora were determined to speak out and pledged to follow Malala's brave example.
"Malala is a good friend of mine. She is brave and has honour and whoever attacked her did a terrible thing," Asma Khan, 12, a student in Saroosh Academy, close to Malala's school told AFP.
"After the attack on her and her injuries, we have now more courage to study and now we will fulfil her mission to spread education everywhere."
Khan's schoolmate Gul Para, 12, added: "Malala is the daughter of the nation and we are proud of her.
"She has stood by us and for our education up to now and now it is time that we should stand by her and complete her mission".
Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and on Friday, November 9, UN special education envoy Gordon Brown handed a separate million-strong petition in support of Malala to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Islamabad on Friday, November 9, also announced a UN-backed scheme to give poor families cash incentives to send their children to school in a bid to get three million more youngsters into education. - Agence France-Presse