Saudi government warns women over campaign to drive
Women in Saudi Arabia are being encouraged to defy to ban
A spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry has warned women that measures may be taken against them if they take part in a campaign against a ban on female drivers.
A new campaign to give women the right to drive will culminate in Saudi Arabia this Saturday.
Women are being encouraged to take to the wheel in defiance of the ban.
It is the third protest of its kind; in the first in 1990, a number of women were arrested or lost their jobs.
The interior ministry spokesman, Mansour al-Turki, has considerably toughened the Saudi government line on the women drivers' campaign.
A previous statement on Wednesday was confusing, with both those pro- and anti- the campaign believing it favoured them.'Mood changing'
But now Mr Turki has explicitly restated that women are prohibited from driving, with violators - and their supporters - likely to face unspecified measures.
A campaign activist, Zaki Safar, said that this was an unusually explicit statement of the ban, which is informal rather than enshrined in Saudi law.
"It is no longer an issue of a social choice - that the government does not itself support the ban," Mr Safar told the BBC.
"No, the spokesman was very clear. And any woman who drives on the 26th will face punishment."
But Mr Safar believes the government is still sending mixed messages, as it is itself divided over whether to lift the ban.
Earlier this week, about 100 conservative clerics asked for an audience at the royal court in the capital, Riyadh, to denounce the campaign as a conspiracy by women and a threat to the country.
But there have been indications of a less hardline attitude by the authorities than back in 1990, and at the second protest in 2011.
As part of the latest campaign, dozens of women have posted online videos of themselves driving in different Saudi cities. None of them has been arrested.
The activists behind the campaign believe the public mood is changing, with many more people - including an increasing number of men - publicly supporting the lifting of the ban.
Some 17,000 people have so far signed a petition calling either for change or a clear explanation of why it should remain in force.