- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

Bahrain moves toward democracy

MANAMA, Bahrain Bahrain's ruler proclaimed himself king and his tiny Gulf island state a constitutional monarchy yesterday, and called for legislative and local elections in line with a promise to make Bahrain a democracy.

Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa who had been an emir gave his royal assent to constitutional amendments at a palace ceremony. With the stroke of a pen, he became king and this state of 600,000 was declared the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia is the only other Gulf kingdom; other Gulf rulers hold the titles of emir or sultan.

Sheik Hamad said he was "fulfilling his promise" to bring democracy to Bahrain and immediately called national elections for a legislative body in October and municipal elections in May. Sheik Hamad still would have the final say on most matters.

The constitutional changes were drafted by a committee he had appointed after a referendum a year ago that called for a constitutional monarchy in Bahrain. The referendum won 98.4 percent support.

Iran hard-liners renew call to kill Rushdie

TEHRAN A hard-line group has renewed a call for the killing of prize-winning British novelist Salman Rushdie, saying the religious edict condemning him to death was irrevocable, a conservative newspaper reported yesterday.

Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, against Mr. Rushdie on Feb. 14, 1989, because Mr. Rushdie had purportedly insulted Islam in his best-selling novel, "The Satanic Verses."

In 1998, the Iranian government declared it would not support the fatwa, but said it could not rescind it either since, under Islamic law, that could be done only by the person who had issued it. Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989.

In a statement issued to mark the 13th anniversary of the fatwa, a hard-line group called the Martyrs' Foundation of the Islamic Revolution reaffirmed its support for the edict, the Jomhuri Islami newspaper said.

Blair faces rebellion over plan for Lords

LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair faced rebellion yesterday by lawmakers who opposed his plan for an overhauled House of Lords in which most members would be chosen by politicians. A parliamentary committee said a broad majority of legislators wanted an upper chamber elected by the people.

The prime minister faced a serious challenge to his authority as House of Commons committee Chairman Tony Wright, a lawmaker from Mr. Blair's Labor Party, bluntly warned that Mr. Blair had a choice of backing down or losing.

Haider criticized for Iraq visit

VIENNA, Austria Austrian right-winger Joerg Haider was criticized from several sides after he visited Iraq this week and claimed Austria felt solidarity with the Arab country.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel yesterday branded Mr. Haider's meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Tuesday as "unhelpful," although insisted it was a "private initiative."

Mr. Haider justified the three-day trip to Baghdad as a humanitarian mission aimed at setting up a blood bank in Baghdad.

Mr. Schuessel said, "Humanitarian engagement is always welcome. … But God knows it doesn't need a handshake with a dictator who has blood on his hands like Saddam Hussein."

The visit was "clearly unnecessary, unhelpful and counterproductive," Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Paris.

An official Iraqi newspaper reported that Mr. Haider demanded during his meeting with Saddam that U.N. sanctions against Baghdad be lifted and called for an end to "external threats against Iraq."

Mr. Haider said Baghdad was not part of an "axis of evil" despite Washington's claims to the contrary, and "has no interest in becoming a hub for terrorism."

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