SAUDI ARABIA is reining in its widely feared, and sometimes ridiculed, morality police by stripping them of their powers of arrest.
The unexpected decree means the police - formally named the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - will have to refer cases to the regular authorities.
They can currently intervene in behaviour ranging from drug dealing to social issues such as "mingling between the sexes" and women who are not properly veiled.
It also instructs them to be "gentle and humane" in their dealings with the public. The move was widely welcomed, especially among Saudi Arabia's large and social media-obsessed younger generations, who set up celebratory hashtags on Twitter such as "Yes to control of the Commission".
The surprise was all the greater since many - including the Commission itself - expected it to have a freer hand under King Salman, who came to the throne a year ago, than under his predecessor, King Abdullah.
King Abdullah was seen as having liberal views on social issues - at least by Saudi standards. He had sacked a previous, hardline head of the Commission and outraged many of its conservative members by sponsoring and opening the kingdom's first mixed-sex university. In one incident, members of the Commission in Riyadh celebrated the new king's accession by raiding a shopping mall and removing coloured abayas - women's all-encompassing gowns - from clothes shops saying that under King Salman only black versions would be allowed.
The morality policehave developed a poor reputation, as they are under local control and are not accountable to the regular police. The change may be an indication of the direction of the country's reform programme, which is being spear-headed by King Salman's ambitious younger son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the deputy Crown Prince.