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Saudi Arabia to allow women to compete for the first time

Saudi Arabia's embassy in London says Saudi women will be allowed to compete in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

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Saudi women visit the Saudi Travel and Tourism Investment Market (STTIM) fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Abdullah gave the kingdom's women the right to vote for first time in nationwide local elections, due in 2015. And it appears Saudi women will be allowed to compete in the London Olympics.

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File

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Saudi Arabia will enter women athletes in the Olympics for the first time ever in London this summer, the Islamic kingdom's London embassy said on Sunday.

Human rights groups had called on the International Olympic Committee to bar Saudi Arabia from competing in London, citing its failure ever to send a woman athlete to a Games and its ban on sports in girls' state schools.

Powerful Muslim clerics in the ultra-conservative state have repeatedly spoken out against the participation of girls and women in sports.

RELATED: 10 voices for change in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia women hold a lower legal status to men, are banned from driving and need a male guardian's permission to work, travel or open a bank account.

Under King Abdullah, however, the government has pushed for them to have better education and work opportunities and allowed them to vote in future municipal elections, the only public polls held in the kingdom.

"The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is looking forward to its complete participation in the London 2012 Olympic Games through the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, which will oversee the participation of women athletes who can qualify for the games," said a statement published on the embassy website.

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