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Pakistan arrests suspect accused of raping a woman on the highway

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MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistani police said Monday they have arrested one of two assailants suspected of gang-raping a woman on a deserted highway after another person was unjustly arrested in the case the day before.

The attack, which took place near the eastern city of Lahore last week, has rocked Pakistan, although attacks on women are common in this deeply conservative Muslim country. The incident drew many street protesters in several cities, including Islamabad and Karachi, denouncing attacks on women.

The woman in this case was raped by two gunmen after her car crashed late at night on a highway in Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital. Police said she had closed the car doors when she ran out of fuel and called for help, but the attackers broke a car window and dragged her out where she was raped in front of her terrified children.

Last Thursday, police arrested 15 people for questioning. On Sunday, a man was detained but later denied involvement in the high-profile crime, although he remains in police custody. The man, Waqarul Hassan, said he was mistakenly named in the case because his mobile phone SIM card was being used by one of his friends, who later turned out to be one of the suspects.

Punjab Prime Minister Uzman Buzdar announced Monday’s arrest, identifying the suspect as Shafqat Ali and vowing that his accomplice and the second of two suspects, Abid Malhi, would also be arrested soon.

Ali was taken into custody during a police raid on his village in Punjab. Buzdar said raids were under way to capture Malhin.

On Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with the local television station 99 NEWS condemned gang rape, proposing public executions for convicted rapists and even going so far as to suggest surgical castration so that “they did nothing”.

Khan said, without elaborating, that Malhi – the second suspect in last week’s fugitive attack – was also involved in another gang rape in 2013. The prime minister said the country needed new legislation to permanently sterilized those associated with such crimes.

Human rights activists have also demanded the removal of Lahore police chief Umar Sheikh, who blames the victim for traveling alone with her children after midnight without checking if her car had enough fuel. The police chief later apologized for his remarks, saying his comments were not intended to blame her for the incident.

Group rape is rare in Pakistan, although sexual harassment and violence against women are often reported. Nearly 1,000 women are killed in Pakistan each year in so-called “honor killings” for allegedly violating conservative norms on love and marriage.

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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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