A new trend has reached China as a company started the first training programme for female bodyguards in the Middle Kingdom, who will be tough competition for Gaddafi's former female bodyguards.

Whether dressed in skimpy bikinis or military uniforms, the group of 20 women, most of them university graduates, are taking part in a strict boot camp run by professional bodyguards in Sanya, Hainan province.

Pictures of their training, which is due to last from eight to ten months, show them being put through their paces as they are kicked, dunked, forced to carry heavy logs and even smashed in the face with glass bottles.

The programme is run by the Tianjiao Special Guard Consultant Ltd, which said it will help participants develop skills in combat, anti-terrorist training, martial arts and business etiquette.

Whoever survives the course and makes it to the top of the class will be invited to train with the International Security Academy in Israel.

The security industry has forecast that up to 600,000 jobs will be created for female bodyguards over the next five years, led by a demand from female entrepreneurs who feel more comfortable with them. They also appreciate their ability to multi-task as secretaries and nannies, as well as that they are better educated and less visible than their male counterparts, who are usually former athletes or soldiers.