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Sunday, 18 February, 2001, 22:03 GMT
Bahrain lifts key security law
Prime Minister Khalifa al-Khalifa (left) with Bahraini officials
The prime minister (left) has moved quickly
The Bahraini Government has abolished controversial emergency laws as part of wide-ranging political reforms.

The move comes just a few days after the people of the Gulf state voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for a new national charter which promises a freely-elected parliament for the first time in more than 25 years.


We are taking the necessary steps... taking into account the new found trust between the people and their emir

Prime Minister Khalifa Al Khalifa
The immediate changes include the abolition of the State Security Court and special security laws which were used to crush the political unrest which has wracked the tiny island state in recent years.

Hundreds of activists have been sentenced by the court, which was set up in 1995 after an outbreak of unrest by the majority Shi'a Muslim population.

Assurances

The State Security Law was enacted in 1975 and has allowed the authorities to detent many hundreds of others for extended periods.

Celebrating Bahrainis
The measures come amid a new mood of optimism in Bahrain
"We are taking the necessary steps to abolish the State Security Law and the State Security Court, taking into account the new found trust between the people and their emir," said Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, at a televised cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The mainly Shi'a opposition withdrew its threat to call for a boycott of the referendum after the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, released more than 900 political prisoners and gave assurances that the security law would be suspended.

More than 98% of those who voted backed the charter and the turnout was 90%, according to official figures.

Committee

A committee headed by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa will be set up to implement the new principles of the charter, which includes the expansion of personal freedom and equal rights, the prime minister said.

map
Correspondents say there are concerns about the vagueness of the referendum and how much popular participation it actually guarantees while Sheikh Hamad will remain the final authority.

The opposition's original demands had been for the restoration of Bahrain's original democratic constitution and its short-lived elected parliament which were suspended by Sheikh Hamad's father in 1975.

In London, the exiled opposition Bahrain Freedom Movement welcomed the results of the referendum. It called for the authorities to continue the reforms and allowing political parties.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Middle East
Bahrainis hunger for democratic reforms
08 Feb 01 | Middle East
Bahrain amnesty welcomed
30 Sep 00 | Middle East
Politics open up in Bahrain
20 Dec 00 | Middle East
Timeline: Bahrain
21 Dec 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bahrain
06 Mar 99 | Middle East
Bahrain's ninth al-Khalifa
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