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Thu 10 Mar 2011 03:17 PM

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Emiratis petition ruler for free and fair elections

Petition signed by 160 intellectuals but no indication of political unrest in Gulf state

Emiratis petition ruler for free and fair elections
A petition sent to the ruler of the UAE lobbied for free and democratic elections

UAE intellectuals petitioned their ruler on Wednesday for
free and democratic elections, in a sign some Emiratis share growing Arab
demands for a greater say in government.

But there was no indication of a move toward street protests
in the seven-emirate federation, whose oil wealth and rapid development have
boosted the standard of living and have buffered its government from widespread
political dissent.

"The [petition] group calls for comprehensive reform of
the Federal National Council [FNC], or parliament, including demands for free
elections by all citizens in the method of universal suffrage," a
statement from the petitioners said.

The 40-member FNC had its first election in 2006 when about
6,500 people, less than one percent of the 800,000 UAE citizens, elected half
of its members. The rest were appointed.

Arab world protests have toppled leaders in Tunisia and
Egypt and triggered revolt in Libya, and anti-government protests have now
spread to several Gulf countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi
Arabia.

Some 160 people signed the petition, many of them academics
and former members of the FNC, which acts as an advisory board to the
government but lacks legislative or regulatory powers. Organisers are trying to
gather more signatures online.

"The group demands reform of legislation governing the
work of parliament to include legislative and monitoring authorities and calls
for necessary constitutional amendments to ensure this," the petitioners
said in the document, sent to President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed A -Nahayan and
his ruling council.

The UAE, the world's No. 3 oil exporter, recently tripled
the number of electors eligible to vote for the FNC, but those still represent
only a small portion of the population.

The pool of electors are selected by the rulers of the seven
emirates, and can either run for office themselves or vote for others. The
electors choose half the FNC's members while the remainder are directly
appointed by the rulers.

"This is about people's right to participate in their
society," said Ahmed Mansour, a blogger and activist who helped organise
the petition.

Dubai's police chief said on Tuesday that the UAE was not
considering new initiatives to reinforce security.

The UAE, as well as Qatar, the world's top liquefied natural
gas exporter, are seen as the Gulf states least vulnerable to the political
unrest.

UAE nationals represent around 15 percent of the total
estimated 5 million in the country, which has one of the world's highest gross
domestic products per capita at over $47,000.

Were there to be discontent in the UAE, analysts say it
likely would appear in less developed emirates whose citizens have benefited
least from the capital Abu Dhabi's vast oil wealth or trade and
property-fuelled development in Dubai.

Earlier this month, state media said the UAE will invest
$1.6bn on infrastructure in its less developed regions.

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