Bahrain ends state of emergency imposed after protests

Protesters flee in Manama, 15 Feb More than 20 people were killed in clashes between Bahraini protesters and security forces

Bahrain has lifted the state of emergency imposed in March to quell pro-democracy demonstrations.

Activists have called for protests to restart, but security measures remain in place to stop large gatherings.

More than 20 people were killed during the government's campaign to stifle the demonstrations.

Human rights groups are demanding an end to the what they call the arbitrary detention and torture of protesters, as well as secret military tribunals.

Analysis

The Bahraini government is making a concerted effort to present an image of 'back to business'. The clashes have cost this small but strategically important island state hundreds of millions of dollars and severely tarnished its image as a stable oasis.

But despite the lifting of the state of security (emergency), the promise of dialogue on reforms, and a high-level PR campaign, the Bahraini authorities stand accused of serious rights abuses.

Reports of rape and violence by the security forces are hard to verify, but I saw for myself in April the horrific marks of torture on the body of one man killed in police custody.

Reformers in the ruling family are appalled by these abuses, but since the crackdown began, they have been largely powerless to rein in the hardliners.

So the true test of whether Bahrain's state of emergency is really over will be how the authorities - and opposition leaders - handle any future protests.

On Wednesday, the leading Shia opposition party, al-Wefaq, said four of its leaders had been questioned by the prosecutors of a special security court set up under emergency rule in the Sunni-ruled country.

Grand Prix cancelled

Bahrain's ruler, King Hamad al-Khalifa, has announced that a national dialogue on reform will begin next month.

The authorities hope the end of the 11-week emergency law will signal a return to normal for tourism and business, says the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner.

They are especially keen to get back the Formula One race next March, correspondents say, after the unrest prompted this year's race to be postponed in March.

The joint Gulf security force, which rolled into Bahrain when the emergency was declared on 15 March, will stay in place until the government thinks it is no longer needed.

The force is largely made up of soldiers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

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