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Hoping for jobs and democratic change, voters in Oman cast ballots in their first municipal election on Saturday, a sign of modest reform in response to protests inspired by the Arab Spring.\nThe small Gulf oil producer, ruled since 1970 by Sultan Qaboos, sits opposite Iran on the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for nearly a fifth of globally traded petroleum.
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Its only other elections are for the Shura Council, a body that has some limited legislative powers. Increased democracy was a main demand of protesters in Omani cities during the Arab uprisings last year, along with jobs and an end to corruption.
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At the polling station in Seeb, set up in a schoolhouse, about 50 people queued to cast their ballots while others stood in the shade and discussed which way to vote.\nVoting in the capital and nearby coastal town of Barka appeared quieter than during last year's election for the Shura Council. Activists from last year's protest movement welcomed the election but cautioned that it was too early to tell whether it would lead to meaningful change.
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Some 1,475 candidates are seeking places on 192 local councils in the country of 2.8 million people. There were no reports of protests or other incidents across the country on Saturday afternoon. Each polling station Reuters visited had a police car parked outside to prevent trouble.
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Protests erupted in several Omani towns early last year inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, as demonstrators blocked major roads and went on strike demanding better pay, more jobs, action against graft and some democratic changes.\nBut Sultan Qaboos remains a popular figure in a country that was mostly undeveloped and faced war in its Dhofar region when he seized power from his father.
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After the demonstrations, he swiftly reshuffled his cabinet and the government promised to create thousands of jobs, announced plans for municipal polls and granted the Shura Council some legislative power, with the right to approve or reject draft laws. The sultan, however, retains the final say.\nTwo of the Shura Council members elected last year were activists from the industrial town of Sohar, the site of the biggest protests. Nine council members now sit in the 28-strong cabinet