Saudi women urged to flout driving ban

Activists on Friday urged women to get behind the wheel for Sunday's first anniversary of the Women2Drive campaign, which resulted in the arrest of people defying Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers.

"The key to ending the ban imposed on women driving in Saudi Arabia starts with women themselves," said a statement from the Women2Drive initiative, received by AFP.

It urged "women who hold driving licences (from abroad) to drive on the anniversary day, June 17, and document their acts."

It also urged men to get in the passenger seat and support their wives, mothers, or sisters who decide to flout the ban in the act of protest.

The statement called on women to flood the traffic department with applications for driving licences, knowing that women will not get such permits, and then to write to the head of the department to complain.

Nearly 600 people petitioned King Abdullah on Wednesday to allow women to drive in the only country in the world they are banned from doing so.

The petition urged the monarch of the ultra-conservative kingdom to "encourage women who have obtained driving licences from neighbouring countries to begin driving whenever necessary."

They also called on the king to "establish driving schools for women and (begin) issuing licences."

The petition thanked the king, a cautious reformer, for giving women the right to vote in municipal elections set to take place in 2015, saying "our initiative is not aimed at violating laws."

"We only want to enjoy the right to drive like all women over the world," said the petition signed by Manal al-Sherif, the icon of an Internet campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy the ban.

Many women have driven since the campaign was launched last year and many have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge that they will never drive again, activists say.

One group of defiant women drove cars last June in response to calls for nationwide action to break the ban.

The campaign, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars.

No law specifically forbids women in Saudi Arabia from driving, but the interior minister formally banned women from doing so after that protest.

Women with the financial means hire drivers, but others depend on the goodwill of male relatives to get around.

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