Sick Saudi woman dies after ambulance denied access

RIYADH (AFP) - The death of an ailing female student at a Saudi university has stirred controversy on social media after an ambulance was denied access under the conservative Muslim kingdom's segregation laws.

Ms Amna Bawazeer, 24, died of a heart attack in the compound of the social sciences faculty of Riyadh's King Saud University.

Local media said medics in an ambulance were denied access because they were not accompanied by a "mahram", a legal guardian or male member of her family.

Angry female students have gone on Twitter to blame faculty officials for Ms Bawazeer's death.

But the university's administration hit back in a statement to stress that the student had suffered from a heart condition from the age of four.

She had died of a heart attack, despite the best efforts of the faculty's own infirmary to save her life.

In 2002, 15 young girls died in a school fire in the holy city of Mecca after religious police blocked their evacuation because they were not dressed in keeping with Islamic codes.

Witnesses said men in the civil defence were kept at bay because the children, aged 12 to 14, were not veiled or wearing the long, black "abaya" robe which covers the entire body.

Saudi Arabia imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic laws, notably a segregation of the sexes, and does not allow women to work or travel without the authorisation of a male guardian from her family.

It is also the only country in the world that bans women from driving.