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Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group won almost half the seats in Bahrain’s parliament on Sunday, although the gains are expected to have limited impact in the Sunni-run state where the assembly has little clout.

The Gulf Arab country’s Shiite opposition group Wefaq won all the 18 seats it contested, out of a total of 40, election officials announced as they read out results from Saturday’s poll. It held 17 seats in the outgoing assembly.

The result was expected as the districts the group contested consisted mainly of Shiite populations. The opposition says the government has apportioned districts to prevent the Shi’ite opposition from gaining a majority in the assembly.

The run-up to the vote was overshadowed by a broad security crackdown against some Shiite opposition groups in August that also targeted bloggers and human rights activists.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has a Shiite Muslim majority population but is governed by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, which allies Saudi Arabia and the United States see as a bulwark against the regional influence of Shiite power Iran.

Sunni groups allied to the government, Al Asalah and Al Menbar, as well as independents, were also contesting.

The two Sunni Islamist groups Al Asalah and Al Menbar that held a combined 15 seats in the outgoing assembly looked set to lose some of their seats to independents as they only won three seats directly, with another seven of their candidates having to enter a second round of voting next Saturday.

The justice ministry said turnout was 67 percent of eligible voters, down from 72 percent in 2006.

Bahrain’s parliament has limited powers as its bill need to pass an upper house whose members are appointed by the king. Ultimate power in the country rests with the ruling family. Yahoo

Photo:Sheik Ali Salman, leader of the opposition al-Wefaq Party, speaks at a press conference Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in Manama, Bahrain. Salman, whose party secured 18 seats in the 40-seat legislature, said he wasn’t satisfied with the outcome, alleging the government’s election rules prevent Shiites from obtaining a majority in parliament.

(AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

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