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A ruling granting U.S. asylum to an African woman who feared ritual genital mutilation if she was sent home to Togo was hailed Friday as a victory for women worldwide.

The ruling Thursday by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals in the case of Fauziya Kasinga found that she should be allowed to stay in the United States because she had a well-founded fear of persecution in her homeland."It is a good day for women globally," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat. "I couldn't be more pleased. This has been a long, sorry and pathetic saga."

Female genital mutilation is practiced in many African countries and some parts of the Middle East. It involves removal of part or all of the clitoris and can cause extensive bleeding and loss of sexual sensation.

The ruling sets a precedent and could led to a flood of other applicants seeking asylum on the same grounds.

But Schroeder said she thought that was unlikely since most women who undergo genital mutilation are young teen-agers still living with their families. "It is going to be very, very rare that anybody can use this," she said.

Kasinga, 19, is a member of the Tchamba-Kunsuntu tribe of northern Togo. Her father died when she was 15 and she said her aunt forced her two years later to marry a 45-year old man who had three other wives.

She testified at a hearing that her aunt and husband planned to force her to submit to genital mutilation before the marriage was consumated.

Kasinga said she fled to Ghana and then to Germany before coming to the United States in December 1994. When she arrived, she immediately requested asylum, but her request was denied and she was held in detention until this April while her request was appealed.

Kasinga said if she went back to Togo, she would be found anywhere she might live and would be taken back to her husband by the police and forced to undergo genital mutilation.

"The applicant has a well-founded fear of persecution in the form of female genital mutilation if returned to Togo," Board Chairman Paul Schmidt said in his written opinion.

"Her fear of persecution is country-wide. We exercise our discretion in her favor and we grant her asylum," he said.

The ruling was supported by 10 of the other 11 members board members. One member dissented without a written opinion.