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Arab Foreign Ministers Agree on Democracy Agenda for Summit - 2004-05-10


In what Arab foreign ministers are calling a critically important document, agreement has been reached on language endorsing greater democracy and human rights throughout the Arab world.

Following three days of talks aimed at setting the agenda for summit, Algerian foreign minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem said the foreign ministers agreed to a document endorsing a system of greater democracy.

Mr. Balkhadem said the League has agreed it is necessary for Arab countries to establish democratic practices, including making court systems independent, greater freedom and human rights for citizens and greater rights for women.

Rarely has the Arab League adopted official documents dealing with issues of internal political change.

The foreign ministers' meeting followed last month's abrupt cancellation of the Arab League summit in Tunis, when ministers could not agree on a document about democracy.

The Tunisian foreign minister said his country specifically wanted the League to adopt language calling for democratic change and greater rights for women.

The foreign ministers, representing the 22 members of the Arab League, denied their push for greater freedoms had anything to do with President Bush's call for more democracy in the Arab world. Several foreign ministers said the document they approved Monday comes from Arab understanding that takes into consideration Arab culture and religion.

A separate document approved by the ministers said Arab governments are committed to comprehensive political, economic, social, cultural and educational reform.

The Arab League summit has been rescheduled for May 22 and 23 in the Tunisian capital.

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