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Saudi Prince Alwaleed demands right for women to drive

Alwaleed bin Talal, an outspoken and influential Saudi prince, has called for an "urgent" end to Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. The billionaire compared the restriction to forbidding education for women.

In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal wrote: "Stop the debate: Time for women to drive.

A longtime advocate of women's rights in the kingdom, the prince is an unusually outspoken member of the Saudi royal family.

Despite holding no political posts, he is, however, chairman of the Kingdom Holding Co., whose interests include US banking giant Citigroup and the Euro Disney theme park.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.

'Unjust acts'

Alongside his tweet, Alwaleed's office also issued a statement, outlining his reasons for supporting an end to the ban.

"Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights, similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity," Alwaleed said in the statement.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal called for an "urgent" end to Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving

"They are all unjust acts by a traditional society, far more restrictive than what is lawfully allowed by the precepts of religion."

The prince also detailed the "economic costs" of women having to rely on "foreign" private drivers or taxis.

"Even if their husbands can take time out to transport them, that requires temporarily leaving the office and "undermines the productivity of the workforce," he said.

"Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances."

'Society not persuaded'

Following a collapse in global prices, Saudi Arabia's oil revenues fell by 51 percent last year. As a result, the government has delayed major projects, cut spending, and raised prices for everyday amenities including water and electricity.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia announced its Vision 2030 plan which aims to diversify the kingdom's oil-dependent economy and employ more Saudis, including women.

On unveiling the plan, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said social change cannot be forced.

With regards to women driving, he said: "So far the society is not persuaded... but we stress that it is up to Saudi society."

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ksb/kl (AFP)

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