King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa orders the suspension of a gaol sentence for human rights activist Abdul Hadi al-Kahwaja and 13 people who had taken to the streets to demonstrate in his support. The royal intervention came just hours after Al-Kahwaja was handed a one-year sentence for defamation and spreading false information designed to destabilise the country. Al-Khawaja is the former director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Iraq’s major creditors agree to forgive up to 80 per cent of its pre-war debt, falling short of a US plea for a 95 per cent write-off but marking a major coup for the government. The deal comes after Berlin agreed in talks with Washington to offer the 80 per cent waiver, followed by Paris and finally Moscow, which is owed the largest sum – $8,000 million – out of the Paris Club creditors. Baghdad will be relieved of some $33,000 million of debt. About 30 per cent of debt will be cancelled immediately, 30 per cent in 2005 and 20 per cent in 2008 (see Special Report).

Iran announces that it is to suspend its uranium enrichment programme in accordance with a deadline agreed with EU’s major powers. The announcement comes just three days before a scheduled meeting of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to examine the case. IAEA head Mohamed el-Baradei confirms the suspension.

Israeli flag carrier El-Al becomes the first national carrier to fit a prototype anti-missile protection system in its passenger aircraft. The $1 million system, built by local defence firms Israel Military Industries and Elta, fires invisible flares intended to thwart heat-seeking missiles.

Polling stations open in Riyadh to allow citizens to register to vote in landmark municipal elections in February – the first elections to be held in the kingdom in more than 40 years. Citizens have until 22 December to register for the vote to elect half of the members of the Riyadh municipal council. The remaining half will be appointed. The Riyadh vote will be followed across the country in March and April by two further rounds of municipal elections. All Saudi males over 21, with the exception of those in the military, are eligible to take part in the poll.