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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Riyadh welcomes return of cinema
Two Saudi children enter their school in Dammam
Saudi children will be able to watch cartoons dubbed in Arabic
The authorities in Saudi Arabia have given permission for the first cinema to open there in 20 years, but the only clients will be women and children.

Foreign cartoons dubbed into Arabic will begin to showing at the end of the holy month of Ramadan in a hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

This could herald a comeback for public cinema in the conservative kingdom.

Public screenings of films were stopped in the 1970s when clerics criticised them and demanded gender segregation.

Private clubs continued to show films until the practice was banned in the early 1980s for contravening Islamic law.

'Things have changed'

However, with many films and cartoons available every day on televisions throughout the kingdom, Saudi authorities have tentatively agreed to the temporary opening of a cinema.

Kamal al-Khatib, head of the media committee of Riyadh council, told the newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that the council has allowed three viewings a day at the Intercontinental Hotel for two weeks, starting on Eid al-Fitr, when the holy month of Ramadan ends.

The cinema has been able to avoid the ban by restricting the audience to just women and children.

It is hoped that 50,000 people will attend during the fortnight.

Faraj al-Uwaydi, the deputy Saudi ambassador in London, told the Guardian that the kingdom had changed since the 1970s.

"There is a lot more television and many beautiful films are being produced. For some time we have been able to hire and buy videos in Saudi Arabia. The opening of cinemas is natural," he said.

Analysts have said the decision to allow the cinema to open could be a trial for the future screening of Arab and western films for adult audiences.

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