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Clinton backs 'brave' Saudi women

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given her support to "brave" women in Saudi Arabia who are protesting against the Islamic kingdom's ban on female drivers.

it is the first time Ms Clinton has spoken publicly about the issue which has become an irritant in complex ties between the US and Saudi governments.

Ms Clinton praised the protesters a day after the State Department said it was handling the issue through "quiet diplomacy" and not public pronouncements.

But she stressed they were acting on their own, on behalf of their own rights, and not at the behest of outsiders such as herself.

Her comments came after the activists urged her to use her position as America's top diplomat and standing as a well-known advocate for women's equality to speak out in support of their aim.

"What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them," Ms Clinton told reporters.

"I am moved by it and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognised."

The protests have put the Obama administration, and Ms Clinton in particular, in a difficult position.

While Clinton and many other top US officials personally find the Saudi ban on women drivers anathema to a modern and just society, the administration is increasingly reliant on Saudi authorities to provide stability and continuity in the Middle East and Gulf amid uprisings taking place across the Arab world.

Thus, some officials have been reluctant to antagonise the Saudis over the driving issue.

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