DUBAI, March 11: Saudi Arabia has authorised regional governors to approve executions by firing squad as an alternative to public beheading, the customary method of capital punishment in the Gulf Arab kingdom, the Arab News reported on Monday.

The English-language daily gave no explanation. But another newspaper, Al Youm, reporting the measure on Sunday, said the reason for the change was a shortage in the number of swordsmen.

The Arab News added that a ministerial committee was looking into formally scrapping beheading as a form of execution.

The kingdom has been criticised in the West for its high number of executions, inconsistencies in the application of the law and its use of public beheadings.

Capital crimes resulting in the death sentence last year included murder, armed robbery, drug smuggling, sorcery and witchcraft.

Saudi Arabia has executed 17 people so far this year, Amnesty International said this month, compared to 82 in 2011 and a similar number last year.

In its Sunday edition, Al Youm reported a circular by the government’s Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution as saying the use of firing squads was being considered because some swordsmen were arriving late to the public squares where executions are normally carried out.—Reuters

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