MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Bahrain's emir has pardoned 20 exiled dissidents, saying they are free to return home.

Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa agreed to the amnesty after the dissidents begged to be allowed back to Behrain and promised to conduct themselves well, the official Gulf News Agency reported.

Sheik Hamad has pardoned more than 300 political prisoners and common criminals since he became the ruler of the Gulf island after the death of his father, Sheik Isa, in March.

Most of the dissidents and political prisoners in Bahrain are Shiite Muslims. They call for political reform, such as freedom of speech and a restoration of parliament, which was dissolved in 1975.

The campaign for reform turned violent in late 1994 and more than 40 people died in riots, bombings and in detention. The movement has quieted in the past two years under the weight of a government crackdown.

Shiites make up a slight majority of Bahrain's 500,000 people, but wield little political power. The emir's family belongs to the Sunni sect of Islam.