Thursday, April 8, 2010

Asian Scandal: He Said, She Said

HYDERABAD (India), April 7: The celebrity wedding of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis star Sania Mirza was back on track on Wednesday after he “divorced” another woman.

Preparations for the high-profile couple’s upcoming nuptials had been marred by claims by Ayesha Siddiqui that she and Malik were married in 2002 — sparking a scandal that captivated millions across south Asia.

“Divorce papers have been signed,” Farisa Siddiqui, Ayesha’s mother, told a press conference in Hyderabad. “The settlement is done.”

The deal apparently ends a complex and often contradictory tale during which Malik consistently denied ever being married to Ayesha.

After Malik and Mirza announced they would get married on April 15, Siddiqui made a range of accusations including that she and Malik had signed a “nikahnama”.

She also lodged a complaint with police in Hyderabad, prompting officers to quiz Malik over the saga and confiscate his passport.

Muslim elders in the city, where both Siddiqui and Mirza live, negotiated the deal after days of frenzied press coverage and lurid speculation.

The agreement involved a nominal sum of Rs15,000 being paid to Ayesha, the elders told reporters.

“My daughter’s wish was to gain a divorce without any money,” Farisa Siddiqui said. “She has got it. I am very happy that finally Shoaib gave her a divorce.”

Malik, 28, has also been in Hyderabad, where he is scheduled to marry 23-year-old Mirza, since the weekend trying to clear up confusion over his marital status.

On Monday he accused Siddiqui of lying in order to gain “cheap popularity” and again claimed that he had never been married to her.

Before the deal, Siddiqui appeared on television news channels to denounce Malik as a cheat who dumped her because his team mates said she was overweight.

Malik has admitted he began a telephone relationship with Siddiqui in 2001 after she sent him photographs --- but he says he now believes the pictures were of another woman.

Mirza, whose short tennis skirts have drawn the ire of Islamist groups in India, is recovering from a wrist injury that has seen her world ranking slip from 27 in 2007 to 90.

She has been a nationwide celebrity since 2005 when, aged 18, she became the first Indian woman to win a WTA Tour title. The sporting marriage, apparently unprecedented in the perennial rivalry between the south Asian nations, is planned just months after Mirza broke off her engagement to a childhood friend.

Hundreds of Malik’s fans danced and celebrated in his hometown Sialkot when the marriage was announced last week, saying they would welcome the bride to Pakistan.

However the couple are thought likely to base themselves in Dubai.

Malik, a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team, is serving a year-long ban for indiscipline.—AFP

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