Omanis vote in Shura council elections

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MUSCAT, Oct 27 (Reuters) Omanis voted today for members of the Arab Sultanate's 84-member advisory Shura council, following the country's first public election campaign.

The council, which is symbolic and has no formal say in state affairs, is currently in its fifth term.

The Omani Interior Ministry said 388,683 people were registered to vote, with 632 candidates standing in 61 electoral areas, including 21 women.

Polling stations opened at 7.00 am (0830 IST) and are expected to close by early evening.

''I am proud to participate in the elections,'' voter Saud al-Hamad told Reuters at a polling station in the Muscat. ''I will choose the best candidate to represent me.'' Two women were elected in the last such poll in 2003.

''I will give my vote for a woman, we need to empower them,'' said Azza bin Sheikh al-Sulaimyah.

Oman is ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said who came to power in 1970. He also appoints the cabinet.

Oman allowed public campaigning for the poll for the first time, with candidates able to post their pictures and political programmes on billboards around the country.

Reuters LPB RN1228

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