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Saudi to allow women into stadium for national day

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has invited women to a sports stadium for the first time to attend annual national day celebrations with their families, state media said yesterday, opening up a previously male-only venue. Families will be allowed into the King Fahd stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, and seated separately from single men to mark the kingdom’s 87th National Day this weekend.

“The stadium is ready to receive about 40,000 people divided between individuals and families to be seated separately,” the official Saudi Press Agency said in a statement, citing the general authority of entertainment. This marks a shift from previous celebrations in the kingdom where women are effectively barred from sports arenas by strict rules on segregation of the sexes in public.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive. Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member — normally the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities. But the kingdom appears to be relaxing some norms as part of its “Vision 2030” plan for economic and social reforms. In July, rights campaigners welcomed an “overdue” reform by the education ministry to allow girls to take part in sports at state schools.

Scrap referendum
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia yesterday urged Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani to call off to planned referendum on independence for his autonomous region to avoid further “crises” in Iraq and the region. A Saudi government official said Barzani should drop plans to hold a referendum “in light of the situation in the region and the dangers it is facing, and in order to avoid new crises”. He called on the Kurdish leader to make use of his “wisdom and experience”, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.

Holding the referendum as planned on September 25 could have “negative consequences on the political, security and humanitarian fronts”. It could also “affect efforts to establish security and stability in the region, as well as efforts to fight against terrorist organizations and their activities,” the official added. Regional kingpin Saudi Arabia is the latest country to voice its opposition to the referendum in oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan. But Barzani has so far resisted pressure from Baghdad and Iraq’s neighbors Turkey and Iran, as well as from the United States and its Western allies, to call off the vote. Iraq’s supreme court has ordered the suspension of the referendum to examine claims made by the federal government that it was unconstitutional. The Saudi official called on “all concerned parties to engage in a dialogue that would serve the interests of the entire Iraqi people”. – AFP

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