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Clemency deal made without forced marriage

Four men convicted of murder have been spared execution after a new agreement was reached Friday with the victims' family giving them clemency. A previous arrangement that involved the forced marriages of eight girls, was scrapped after a national outcry.

Under the new plan, the four men will be released after their family pays the family of the two murder victims $130,000, said Rana Ijaz Ahmad, the law minister of Punjab province.

"The four convicted persons will not be hanged," he told the Associated Press.

Officials went to Abbakhel, a remote area in rural central Pakistan, after media reports of the girls being forced to marry older men shocked many Pakistanis. The original deal, reached earlier this week, also required a $130,000 payment.

"We have just dropped the condition of getting eight girls," said Abdullah Khan, a spokesman for victims' family.

The four men's family will have to sell property and pool their resources to pay the sum, a king's ransom in this poor area.

The deal to spare the men the gallows was reached under Pakistan's Islamic law, which allows the family of a murder victim to ask for clemency. The two families were from the same village of Musakhen, about 140 miles southwest of Islamabad.

One of the eight girls that was to have been forced to marry, Wazeeran Khatoon, 18, said she agreed to wed a man her grandfather's age to spare her father, one of the four sentenced to hang for the murders 14 years ago.

"I knew very well that I would be living with enemy's family," she said.

Forced marriages are not unusual in this remote region in Punjab, where centuries-old traditions still often carry more weight than the law.

There have been conflicting accounts of the ages of the girls and men involved. Some have said the girls were as young as 5 or even younger, while the oldest husband-to-be was reported to be 80.

Ahmad, the province's law minister, met with Khatoon. He promised the government will end forced marriages to protect the rights of women and children.

RAPE TRIAL BEGINS: Fourteen men went on trial Friday in the gang rape of a woman in a Pakistani village, an attack ordered by a tribal council to punish the victim's family. Four of the men are charged with committing the rape, while 10 others are accused with ordering the attack.

All the accused pleaded not guilty. The four accused of rape face death by hanging. The others face jail terms.

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