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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 April 2005, 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK
Conservatives 'win Saudi polls'
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News

Posters for election candidate Khaled Alsindi in Jeddah
Saudi male voters were electing half the members of local councils
Saudi Arabia's conservatives have fared well in the first nationwide municipal elections, results of the third and final round of polling indicate.

The elections - in which only men were allowed to vote - were held as part of a response by Saudi Arabia's rulers to demands for democratic reform.

But the kingdom's efforts to change have been marred by a continuing wave of al-Qaeda linked violence.

Police and militants in Mecca clashed hours after polls closed on Thursday.

Moderate Islamists won all the seats up for grabs on the municipal councils in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

They also did well in the towns in the north as well as in Jeddah, the most liberal Saudi city.

This follows a victory in the conservative capital Riyadh as well as a good performance in the mostly Shia eastern province in earlier rounds.

'Tricked' voters

The third round of local elections saw just over 300,000 Saudi men cast their ballots on Thursday.

The polls mark a milestone for the absolute monarchy, but only a small proportion of eligible voters took part in this first limited exercise in democracy.

Women were not allowed to vote and only half the council's members were being elected.

The other half will be appointed by the authorities.

Most of those who won were backed by conservative Muslim scholars.

Some reform-minded Saudis have claimed that voters were tricked into choosing conservatives whose names were being circulated as religiously sanctioned by clerics.

But in a country that is still deeply traditional and religious, the results are hardly surprising.

And the terminology used to describe the winners can even be misleading - few people in the kingdom qualify as real liberals.

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