Saudi activist urges king to relax women's driving ban

Manal al-Sharif, who was jailed for driving in Saudi Arabia last year photographed in April 2012. Manal al-Sharif was jailed last year for driving in Saudi

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A women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia has written to the Saudi king repeating demands to allow women to drive.

Manal al-Sharif has led a campaign to remove bans on women driving in the oil-rich country for the past year.

Her open letter urges King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz to permit women with foreign licences to drive.

Last year Mrs Sharif was jailed after she posted a video of herself driving in the Saudi city of Khobar on YouTube.

Her letter comes on the same day that hundreds of Saudi women signed a petition in support of women driving to mark the first anniversary of the start of the Women2Drive internet campaign, which was prompted by Mrs Sharif's arrest.

Reformist stance

Mrs Sharif praised some of the steps the King has taken to improve women's rights. She said banning women from getting behind the wheel was a result of of customs and traditions, and not to do with God.

Since he ascended the throne in 2005, King Abdullah has been widely seen as trying to strike a reformist stance in the traditional Sunni Islamic country.

In September last year he granted women the right to vote and take part in municipal elections.

Other signatories to Wednesday's petition include a woman who was sentenced to 10 lashes after driving her car in Jeddah. King Abdullah later intervened and had the sentence overturned.

Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have criticised the country for having an opaque justice system and passing draconian sentences.

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