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Sexes to be separated in panel advising Saudi king

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) – A Saudi official says a screen will separate genders on the country’s main advisory body to King Abdullah when women join it for the first time.

Following a decision by Abdullah, women will be allowed to join the Shura Council, his main group of advisers expected to reconvene early next year. The format is seen as a compromise with hardline Islamic factions that oppose even small reforms in the ultraconservative kingdom, where sex segregation is a widespread custom.

Abdullah has pledged to allow women to vote and run in the next municipal elections in 2015. But Saudi women still face many restrictions, including a ban on driving.

The official, quoted in Al-Watan newspaper on Wednesday, says an internal communications network will allow men and women to communicate despite the barrier.

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