Thousands march in Ireland as abortion row spirals

GALWAY, Ireland - Thousands of people took to the streets in Ireland on Saturday in a politically charged memorial for an Indian woman allegedly refused the termination of her pregnancy because it was against the law.

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist originally from India, died in University Hospital Galway days after she miscarried. Her family say she asked for an abortion several times because she was in pain.

On Saturday more than 10,000 people attended a march in the Irish capital Dublin, police said, where a minute's silence was observed before pro-choice activists made speeches calling for legislative change.

In Galway on Ireland's west coast, where the Halappanavars lived and where her husband Praveen worked as an engineer, hundreds of people carrying candles took to the city's Eyre Square on a bitterly cold evening.

"I came here out of anger, sadness and disappointment. My own mother died in similar circumstances 50 years ago," Margaret Geraghty said, guarding the flame on her candle from the cold wind.

"This whole week has been a memory of that. I just can't believe this can still happen in today's world. I'm just glad Praveen had the bravery to tell the world about this."

The crowd stood in silence, many with heads bowed. As people left, they placed their candles on the ground underneath a poster of Savita emblazoned with the words: "Never again".

Irish authorities have launched an investigation into her death, and on Saturday Ireland's police said they were "assisting the coroner" in relation to the incident.

Abortion is illegal in predominantly Roman Catholic Ireland, except when it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

But that right exists only because of a 1992 Supreme Court ruling. Successive Irish governments have failed to introduce legislation to reflect this, leading to calls for action.

Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to hospital in early October with back pains. She died of septicaemia, or blood poisoning, on October 28.

Her husband has said doctors refused to give her an abortion despite her pleas because there was a foetal heartbeat and because Ireland was a "Catholic country".

In India, opposition protesters held a demonstration outside the Irish embassy on Friday over her death, and accused Irish authorities of committing "medical murder".

Foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said India's ambassador to Ireland would meet Irish authorities to seek assurances of a "transparent" probe.