A number of Saudi Arabian women drove cars on Friday in response to calls for nationwide action to break a traditional ban, unique to the ultra-conservative kingdom, 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 women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.

“We've just returned from the supermarket. My wife decided to start the day by driving to the store and back,” said columnist Tawfiq Alsaif on his Twitter page. “I took King Fahd Road [Riyadh artery] and then Olaya Street, along with my husband, I decided that the car for today is mine,” Maha al-Qahtani tweeted.

“This is a right for women that no law or religion bans... I went out to get my right, so that it would be up to me to drive or not,” she told AFP by telephone.

Her husband Mohammed al-Qahtani tweeted that she carried her necessary belongings “ready to go to prison without fear”.

Another woman posted online a video of her driving after midnight Thursday as the first woman to answer the call for protest. The veiled woman drove along nearly-empty main roads until she parked at a supermarket.

Police patrols were at normal levels on the sleepy streets of Riyadh on the first day of the weekend, an AFP photographer reported.

Many Saudi women had pledged on Facebook and Twitter to answer the call to defy the deeply entrenched ban.

Sharif, a 32-year-old computer scientist, found herself behind bars for two weeks last month after driving in the Eastern Province and posting footage of her actions on the Internet. Six other women were also briefly detained after being caught learning to drive on an empty plot of land in north Riyadh.

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