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    Kuwait Islamists Oppose Votes For Women Bill
    KUWAIT - Influential Kuwaiti Islamists Sunday rejected a first step by the conservative Muslim state to grant women full political rights.
    An order by the ruler, Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, of Kuwait to allow women to vote and run for public office as of 2003 was passed by the government as a decree Sunday.
    Constitutional experts said the measure would still have to be approved by the all-male parliament to be elected in July.
    The last parliament, the only such elected assembly among Gulf Arab states, was dissolved by the Emir this month during a dispute between lawmakers and the government over distribution of faulty copies of the Koran.
    The Sunni Muslim fundamentalist political group Salaf and a leading Shi'ite clergyman, Sayed Mohammad al-Mihri, voiced separate objections to the decree.
    The Salaf statement sent to Reuters cited fatwas, or religious edits, issued in recent years by various Islamic institutions that women should not be allowed to vote or stand in elections.
    ``The Salaf movement of Kuwait supports these edicts and sees them in place,'' said the statement which also criticized the passing of laws by decree in parliament's absence.
    Salaf had four members in the dissolved parliament, in addition to three to four other supporters. It is seen as more fundamentalist than other local Sunni groups.
    Mihri, who Kuwaitis say enjoys wide authority among Kuwait's 30 percent Shi'ite minority, issued a statement backing the right of women to vote ``but we have reservations on granting her the right to run.''
    ``A woman's role in society is different from that of a male and what is required from her is different,'' he said, although he admitted that Shi'ite Iran's spiritual leaders have backed the right for women to vote and run for legislative councils.
    Mihri said the passing of such a decree in parliament's absence was a sign of the rivalry between the non-elected government and parliament.
    ``The government wanted to show citizens that it is the only channel which can resolve peoples problems and meet demands of all sectors of society while the parliament cannot achieve anything,'' he said, adding that the decree has won the government many supporters which could have a ``large impact'' on the July vote.
    The new measure was announced Sunday, after the government's weekly meeting.
    ``The Cabinet was informed of the order of His Highness the Emir to grant Kuwaiti women full political rights to vote and run for legislative councils.''
    It said the emir decided on the move ``in appreciation of the effective and important role played by Kuwaiti women,'' adding that a legal committee would now work to implement his request, which it described as a ``civilized step.''
    Women activists said that a female delegation was expected to meet the emir Monday to express gratitude for his decision which was swiftly welcomed by most of Kuwait's Western allies who led the 1991 Gulf War to end Iraq's occupation.
    Kuwaiti women, seen as the region's most liberated, run businesses and newspapers, head diplomatic missions and help steer the country's vital oil industry. They make up about 30 percent of Kuwaitis in the workforce.
    The July elections for 50 parliamentary seats are the third since 1992, when parliament was restored after a six-year break.
    Some 113,000 men out of a population of 800,000 Kuwaitis are scheduled to go to the polls on July 3