Vote ban for Saudi women stays: election official

"We are not ready for the participation of women in these municipal elections," Abdulrahman al-Dahmash told reporters, renewing earlier promises that authorities would "allow (women's) participation in the next ballot."

At a time of pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world, Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, announced last week that it is to hold municipal elections by region, kicking off on April 23.

The kingdom held its 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 country were not allowed to stand as candidates or to vote in the 2005 elections, the first in the highly centralised monarchy where all government posts are appointed.

King Abdullah has announced unprecedented economic benefits worth nearly USD 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 USD 36 billion, mostly aimed at youth, civil servants and the unemployed.

However, Saudi's oil-rich Eastern Province, where most of its Shiite minority lives, was the scene of protests earlier this month in solidarity with protesters in neighbouring Shiite-majority Bahrain.


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