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Five Saudi women drivers arrested

At least five women have been taken into custody in Saudi Arabia accused of defying the men-only driving rule in the ultra-conservative Arab kingdom.

The detentions mark the first major backlash by Saudi authorities since a campaign was launched nearly two weeks ago to challenge the driving restrictions.

Dozens of women have since driven through the capital Riyadh and other cities.

Saudi-based rights activist Eman al-Nafjan said police detained a woman on Tuesday while she was driving in Jidda on the Red Sea coast.

Four other women accused of driving were later detained in the city.

About 40 Saudi women got behind the wheel earlier this month, saying they were launching a campaign to lift the restrictions in the ultra-conservative Muslim country, where women can only appear in public when escorted by a male relative.

Saudi Arabia has no written law barring women from driving - only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics following a strict brand of Islam known as Wahabism.

The group, Saudi Women for Driving, said their campaign was inspired by the Arab uprisings against autocratic rulers and appealed for high-level Western backing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lent her support to the campaign against the ban on female drivers in the Islamic kingdom. Mrs Clinton praised the protesters, but stressed they were acting on their own, on behalf of their own rights, and not at the behest of outsiders like herself.

The Saudi protests have put the Obama administration, and Mrs Clinton in particular, in a difficult position. While she and many other top US officials personally find the Saudi ban on women drivers offensive and contrary 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.

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