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Sun 15 Jan 2012 04:03 PM

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Bahrain king gifts more power to parliament

But critics blast changes for falling short of real reform demanded by protesters

Bahrain king gifts more power to parliament
Bahrains King Hamad Al-Khalifa urged "all sectors of society to work together"

Bahrain's
king announced constitutional amendments on Sunday giving parliament more
powers of scrutiny over government, but the opposition said they fell far short
of demands for democracy
that have driven a year of unrest in the Gulf Arab
state.

The
speech did not mention clashes between riot police and mainly Shi'ite
opposition activists that have taken place on an almost daily basis since
martial law was lifted in May after the Sunni-led government crushed a
pro-democracy movement.

The Gulf
island nation, home to the US Fifth Fleet, is seen by the United States and
Saudi Arabia as a key ally against non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran just across Gulf
waters.

The
amendments, which increase powers to question ministers and withdraw confidence
in the cabinet, emerged from a national dialogue King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
organised last year after the Sunni-dominated government crushed a democracy
uprising dominated by majority Shi'ites.

The main
opposition party Wefaq withdrew from the dialogue, saying it did not go far
enough to offer real reform.

The
king, in a televised speech said: "Our people have proven their desire for
continuing with reforms... We complete the march today with those who have an
honest patriotic desire for more progress and reform."

"I
must mention here that democracy is not just constitutional and legislative
rules, it is a culture and practice and adhering by the law and respecting
international human rights principles," he said.

"I
beseech all sectors of society to work together so that all their sons adhere
to the law, which is linked to coexistence and tolerance..."

The
cabinet is headed by the same prime minister from the royal family who was
appointed when Bahrain emerged from colonial tutelage in 1971. The elected
parliament's powers to legislate are neutralised by an appointed chamber.

Activists
were scathing about the speech, which comes after a number of deaths in recent
weeks resulting from the tense security situation.

A
24-year-old Shi'ite man was found dead after he went missing last Wednesday.
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said his body showed signs of torture, but
the Interior Ministry said he had drowned.

"Shoes
are being thrown at your face [on TV], you lowest of kings in the depths of
hell!" wrote a Twitter user called 'Sanabis News', - the usename a
reference to a Shi'ite district where police and youths clash daily.

Saeed
Shehabi, an opposition leader based in London, wrote after the speech was
announced on Sunday evening: "Never in history has a dictator become a
democrat. So how can Al Khalifa be expected to change? They simply have to
go."

Tensions
are set to rise ahead of Feb 14, the anniversary of the uprising last year
after Egyptians and Tunisians succeeded in forcing out unpopular leaders.

Analysts
say hardliners within the Khalifa family, backed by Saudi Arabia, have the
upper hand and reject further reforms