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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Saudi Arabia to hold municipal polls in April

RIYADH, March 23 : Saudi Arabia plans to begin municipal elections, the first political concession from the conservative U.S. ally since protests sweeping the region reached the kingdom, a government website said on Wednesday.

"The first phase of the elections will start on April 23 , the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs announced on its website the date of the municipal elections but in accordance to the Islamic calendar that is likely to fall on April 23.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Saudi's SPA official agency announced that the kingdom is to hold municipal elections from April 23. "A committee has been formed to oversee next month's municipal council elections," SPA said, adding that polling by regions would kick off on April 23.

The announcement on the website of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs did not say if women would be able to take part or gave more details.

The oil-rich monarchy held landmark first men-only municipal polls in 2005, when Saudis elected half the members of 178 municipal councils across the Gulf state.

The government in May 2009 extended the mandate of the councils by two years, postponing a second vote expected to have taken place that year.

Women in the conservative Muslim state were not allowed to run as candidates or to vote in the 2005 elections, the first in the highly-centralized monarchy where all government posts are appointed, Al Arabiya TV said.

King Abdullah last week announced unprecedented economic benefits worth nearly $100 billion and warned against any attempt to undermine security in the country, largely spared by the Arab uprisings.

And in late February he ordered social benefits worth an estimated $36 billion, mostly aimed at youth, civil servants and the unemployed.

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