Saudi women's desire to drive 'understandable': Merkel

22nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Germany's first female chancellor, Angela Merkel, believes a campaign by Saudi women to lift a ban on them driving is "understandable", her spokesman said Wednesday.

Asked about comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who on Tuesday publicly threw her support behind the push by Saudi women, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert indicated the German leader was also sympathetic to the cause.

"The chancellor finds Saudi women's desire to drive understandable," he told a regular government news conference.

"When she was in Saudi Arabia (on an official visit in February 2007), women expressed this wish to her."

Clinton went much further in her comments in Washington.

"What these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right," Clinton said, ending what US officials had called quiet diplomacy toward a campaign by Saudi women to defy the ban.

"I'm moved by it (the campaign) and I support them," the chief US diplomat told reporters after Saudi women had urged her to publicly back their right-to-drive demands.

A number of Saudi women drove cars on Friday in response to calls for nationwide action to break what amounts to a traditional ban that is unique to the country, according to reports on social networks.

The call to defy the ban that spread through Facebook and Twitter is the largest en masse action since November 1990, when a group of 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.

Both Germany and the United States have close political and economic ties with the ultra-conservative, oil-rich kingdom and rarely criticise its policies in public.

© 2011 AFP

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