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UAE Activists Demand Impartial Elections

A giant image of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, left, and Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, UAE president, right, adorns a tower at Internet City on Sheikh Zayed highway in Dubai, March 9, 2011

Activists in the United Arab Emirates are demanding free and direct elections for a national assembly - a move that signals how political discontent sweeping the Middle East may be reaching the oil-rich Gulf federation.

Rights activists and academics are among at least 130 UAE citizens who signed an online petition, sent to the president of the seven-member federation on Wednesday. They are asking for an election process that give all voters an opportunity to choose a parliament.

The petitioners are calling for constitutional reforms that would invest a newly-elected parliament with legislative powers. The request comes as anti-government activists in countries including Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt are demanding a greater role in determining the makeup of their governments.

The UAE held its first elections in 2006 for an advisory assembly with no legislative powers. UAE leaders picked about 6,700 voters from among a population of about 800,000 to cast ballots. The designated voters selected half of the 40-seat Federal National Council. The rulers of the seven emirates named the other half.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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