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Dark tale of love and murder in Pakistan's rural heartland

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

MOZA SIAL Pakistan (Reuters) - A Pakistani man whose pregnant wife was bludgeoned to death by angry family members who did not approve of the marriage fondly recalled a brief life together with the woman he fell in love with at first sight.

Farzana Iqbal, 25, was murdered by a group of assailants including her father on Tuesday, witnesses and police said, because she fell in love with and married Muhammed Iqbal in January instead of a cousin they had selected for her.

"She was a very happy person. And she was the best wife anyone could ask for," Iqbal, 45, told Reuters in his mud-brick home in the village of Moza Sial in central Pakistan, 240 km (150 miles) west of Lahore.

"She never lied. She never broke her promises. That's what I loved and respected the most about her. She never let me down. But I let her down. It was my duty to save her and I let her down."

The dark tale of love, betrayal and murder has stunned people around the world, with the United Nations condemning Farzana's killing and a major international newspaper running a Reuters photograph of the grisly aftermath of the attack on its front page.

In Pakistan, a Muslim country of some 180 million people, the reaction has been more muted.

Many conservative families consider it shameful for a woman to fall in love and choose her own husband. Refusal to accept arranged marriages frequently results in "honor killings".

In 2013, 869 such cases were reported in the media, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and the true figure is probably higher since many cases go unreported.

News traveled further afield in this case partly because it took place in broad daylight outside the High Court in the city of Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital.

MURDER, MARRIAGE, MURDER

The couple's relationship was itself born of a shockingly violent act, one perpetrated by Iqbal himself. In a blunt admission, he said he killed his first wife in a fight over Farzana in 2009.

"I got angry. We were fighting, the kind of fights husband and wife often have. But I held her by the neck and just meant to push her but she died," he said.

"I was going to see Farzana and she stood in my way and said she wouldn't let me go. So I pushed her. There was a murder case against me for three to four years but then my sons forgave me, so I went free. Then I married Farzana."

Under Islamic law, which is accepted by Pakistani courts, victims' families can decide the fate of convicted criminals.

On Tuesday, Farzana, her husband and other family members were attacked on their way to Lahore High Court, where they had planned to argue that their marriage was genuine in response to a charge of kidnapping brought by Farzana's family.

"During the scuffle, one unknown accused brought out a pistol and fired a shot which reportedly ... hit Farzana near the ankle," said a Lahore police source.

"At the same time, the father, Muhammad Azeem, hit Farzana with a brick taken from the roadside, while Zahid, the brother, and Mazhar Iqbal, the cousin, also joined in. Farzana died on the spot."

Umer Cheema, a police official in Lahore, told Reuters her autopsy showed that Farzana was shot in the shin, adding that police had arrested four people including her uncle Attaullah and her father.

A police source said Farzana had actually been married at the time of her wedding to Iqbal, but told the families she was engaged. Iqbal denied the previous marriage, saying his late wife's family used the accusation to build a case against him.

WEDDED BLISS

Iqbal, a farmer, cried as he prayed at the freshly dug grave of his wife. Leaves and rose petals were strewn over the earth, and the petals stained the back of his white shirt red.He said he and his wife had been threatened by her family several times after he told the father he was unable to pay more than $800 to win approval for the relationship.

Attempts in Lahore to contact representatives of the four arrested people were not immediately successful, and it was not clear whether they had lawyers.

Iqbal described his friendship and short-lived marriage with Farzana as blissful.

"Our lands are side-by-side and I used to see her when she came to her lands," he said. "I found her very beautiful and I fell in love with her. I asked for her hand in marriage and her family agreed at first."

"She used to love singing this song to me: 'Don't talk ill of the lover who is gone, Don't think bad of the one you love'. She would always sing this to me," Iqbal added, fighting back tears.

"When I took a shower, she would wait outside with my clothes. And she would sit me in front of the mirror and comb my hair. When I went to work on the fields, she often came along. I would tell her to go back home but she said she wanted to stay there with me."Her stepchildren from Iqbal's previous marriage said they loved her as their own mother.

"She was my mother," said stepson Aurangzeb, 22, sitting alongside his father. "She would do anything for me. She was a beautiful person. I forgave my father for killing my real mother and then god gave me a second mother. Now she is also gone."

Farzana lived in the mud-brick home with Iqbal and his three sons. On the day she was murdered, she kissed the children good-bye before leaving for Lahore.

"We had to leave for the hearing. I can still see her walking around this room, getting ready. She changed her clothes, put on some cream, combed her hair in front of the mirror," Iqbal said.

"Then she sat down and put on her shoes. She kissed her stepsons and told them: 'I'm going away. If life remains, I will see you again'."

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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