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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Saudi women barred from voting
File photo of women in Saudi Arabia
Women in the kingdom live with highly circumscribed rights
The Saudi interior minister has said women will not be allowed to vote in the country's municipal elections starting in February 2005.

In response to a question about women's getting the vote, Prince Nayef bin Sultan said simply: "I don't think that women's participation is possible."

An election law published in August did not explicitly ban women from voting.

This led many campaigners for women's rights to hope for a substantial breakthrough for Saudi women.

The Associated Press quotes an unnamed Saudi election official as saying that the main reasons for barring women from the election were administrative.

The official told AP that there were not enough women electoral staff to run women-only voter registration centres, while only a fraction of women in Saudi Arabia had photo identity cards.

Absolute monarchy

The only previous Saudi elections were some municipal polls held in a number of cities in the 1960s.

Registration for next year's election starts in November. Voting starts in the capital, Riyadh, on 10 February and ends in the north of the country towards the end of April.

Citizens over the age of 21 will be able to choose half the members of municipal councils.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, governed according to a highly conservative interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

The country is under severe pressure, internally and externally, to reform its political system.

Women in the kingdom live with highly circumscribed rights. They are, for example, not permitted to travel unaccompanied by male relatives or allowed to drive.

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