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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 23:59 GMT
Bahrain blocks opposition websites
Sheikh Hamad (centre) has agreed to a constitutional monarchy, AP
Bahrain is undergoing a period of reforms
Authorities in Bahrain have blocked access to some opposition and other internet sites which they say have been inciting sectarianism and carrying offensive content.

Bahrain's Information Minister, Nabeel Yacoub al-Hamer, said that three or four sites were affected.

He said that access might be permitted again if changes were made to their content.

Map, BBC
"We welcome and are open for criticism, but we don't accept offences or inciting sectarian strife," he said.

Bahraini opposition sources said that at least four sites had been blocked, including that of the London-based Bahrain Freedom Movement.

A Shia Muslim opposition representative told Reuters news agency that the move "stains the good image of Bahrain".

He urged the ministry to reconsider its decision and reopen the sites.

However, Mr al-Hamer said: "Many opposition [leaders] contacted the Information Ministry and promised that they will abide by the rules."

Healing rifts

The Gulf Arab state is due to have its first parliamentary elections in 27 years in October.

The King, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, began a series of landmark political reforms in February 2001.

Sheikh Hamad has also set 9 May as the date for local elections that will see women running for office for the first time.

Analysts say the reforms are aimed at healing rifts between Bahrain's Sunni Muslim ruling family and the Shia Muslim majority.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Middle East
Bahrain steps up democratic reforms
15 Feb 02 | Middle East
Bahrainis welcome change
18 Feb 01 | Middle East
Bahrain lifts key security law
16 Feb 01 | Middle East
Landslide win for Bahrain reforms
08 Feb 01 | Middle East
Bahrain amnesty welcomed
30 Sep 00 | Middle East
Politics open up in Bahrain
05 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bahrain
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