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King overturns woman driver verdict

Saudi King Abdullah has overturned a court ruling sentencing a woman to be lashed 10 times for defying the kingdom's ban on female drivers, a government official has said.

A Saudi Arabian court had found Shaima Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban in a verdict which took Saudi women by surprise, coming just a day after King Abdullah promised to protect women's rights and decreed that women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015.

King Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.

The harsh sentence marked the first time a legal punishment had been handed down since female activists began their campaign in June to break the taboo in this ultraconservative Muslim nation.

There are no written laws that restrict women from driving. Rather, the ban is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.

Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women - both Saudi and foreign - from driving.

The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers or to rely on male relatives to drive women to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

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