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Celebrations, tears as Saudi Arabia overturns ban on women driving

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Riyadh (AFP) - Saudi women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades Sunday as the kingdom overturned the world's only ban on female motorists, a historic reform expected to usher in a new era of social mobility.

The much-trumpeted move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plan to modernise the conservative petrostate -- but it has been dented by the jailing of female activists who long opposed the driving ban.

Women in Riyadh and other cities began zipping around streets bathed in amber light soon after the ban was lifted at midnight, with some blasting music from behind the wheel.

"I feel free like a bird," said talk show host and writer Samar Almogren as she cruised across the capital.

Television presenter Sabika al-Dosari called it "a historic moment for every Saudi woman" before driving a sedan across the border to the kingdom of Bahrain.

The lifting of the ban, long a glaring symbol of repression, is expected to be transformative for many women, freeing them from dependence on private chauffeurs or male relatives.

"This is a great achievement," billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal said as his daughter Reem drove a family SUV, with his granddaughters applauding from the back seat.

"Now women have their freedom," he added in a video posted on Twitter.

Euphoria mixed with disbelief as women posted online videos of driving themselves to work, their children to school and their friends for ice cream, all mundane experiences elsewhere in the world but a dazzling novelty in the desert kingdom.

"The jubilance, confidence and pride expressed by Saudi women driving for the first time in their country, without fear of arrest, brought tears to my eyes," tweeted activist Hala al-Dosari, while lauding the jailed campaigners.

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