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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 September, 2004, 08:55 GMT 09:55 UK
Sultan of Brunei reopens parliament
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (centre) at the opening of the Legislative Council
Brunei has not had an elected body since 1962
The Sultan of Brunei has reopened the tiny oil-rich state's parliament for the first time in 20 years.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah described the move as a "cautious" reform and warned the legislative council against making "mistakes".

"Its existence is not designed to spark chaos and apprehension among the community," the Sultan said in a speech to the 21 appointed members.

He abolished parliament in 1984 after Brunei gained independence from the UK.

The Sultan said he had reconvened parliament to "enhance co-operation" with the people.

But he warned: "Any mistakes carries risk that takes time to ameliorate. As such, we begin this process with caution. "

There was no reference to elections.

The council was also expected to discuss changes to the state's 1959 constitution.

The nature of the constitutional amendments has not been disclosed but the BBC's Jonathan Kent in Kuala Lumpur says the Sultanate has to plan for a future without oil, the country's main source of wealth.

Economic challenges

Experts predict the state's reserves could run out in around 20 years.

The country also faces rising unemployment as its population grows.

Map of Brunei
Population: 358,000
National income per head: $26,800
Capital: Bandar Seri Begawan
Media controlled or owned by the royal family

Members of the new legislative council include cabinet ministers, senior government officials and prominent businessmen, including the Sultan himself and Brunei's foreign minister, Prince Mohamed, the Sultan's younger brother.

Brunei's 1959 constitution provided for a 33 seat parliament with 16 directly-elected members.

The elected body was disbanded in 1962 by the present Sultan's father after voters backed the left-wing Brunei People's Party.

He declared a state of emergency that is still in place.

Subsequent demands for greater democracy and the abolition of the monarchy were rejected and the armed revolt that followed was crushed with British military help.

The BBC's Jonathan Kent
"Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is easing his grip on power"

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