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May 31, 2011

Bahrainis Call for Protests as King Lifts Emergency Law

Activists in Bahrain on Wednesday called for fresh demonstrations seeking reforms, as the government lifted the state of emergency imposed during a March crackdown on anti-government protesters.

The activists renewed their push for protests via online forums Wednesday. Rights group Amnesty International has urged Bahrain's authorities to allow the planned protests to go ahead so that people can "peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression."

On Tuesday, Bahrain's king called for a national dialogue on reforms, beginning in July, and promised participants the ability to "freely raise demands."

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the dialogue would be a positive step.

Still, Bahrain's government has indicated that it will not ease pressure on anti-government groups even after the lifting of emergency laws.

The justice ministry has issued a statement warning that it will not tolerate political activity that threatens national security.

And Bahrain's military chief has said the 1,500-strong foreign military force led by Sunni-dominated neighbor Saudi Arabia is remaining in Bahrain until the government feels its presence is no longer necessary.

Bahrain's Sunni rulers enacted emergency laws in March in an effort to end protests by the country's Shi'ite majority.  The emergency measures gave the military sweeping powers and also resulted in the detentions of activists and journalists.

Officials say at least 24 people were killed in the unrest, in which Bahraini Shi'ites demanded a greater role in their government.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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