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Saudi Arabia unveiled its first cinema in over 35 years with a private screening of the blockbuster “Black Panther”, the first in a series of trial runs before movie theatres open to the wider public.

The invitation-only gala event comes after the conservative kingdom lifted the ban on cinemas last year as part of a far-reaching liberalization drive, with US giant AMC Entertainment granted the first license to operate movie theatres.

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Anticipation had been building after the authorities announced earlier this month that Saudi Arabia’s first cinema in over three decades would open, but officials dubbed the event at Riyadh’s King Abdullah Financial District a “dry run”.

AMC chief executive Adam Aron said ticket sales will commence on Thursday for the first public shows on Friday.

But local authorities indicated the test screenings could last for days before an online ticketing system is formally launched. Officials earlier said movie theatres are expected to open to the public in May.

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