Middle East
Saudis to pull some troops out of Bahrain
Officials confirm "redeployment" plan, but say there are no moves for a full withdrawal of Gulf forces.
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2011 21:31
Bahraini king requested its Sunni neighbours to send troops in March to help quell Shia unrest [Reuters]

A Saudi Arabian official has said some of its troops sent to back Bahraini security forces as part of Gulf Co-operation Council troops, are to be "redeployed".

A Saudi military official told Associated Press news agency on Tuesday that the kingdom plans to pull some units out of the 1,500-strong GCC force sent to help quell the Shia-led uprising for greater rights.

The official refused to give any further details on the movements of the GCC force, which is mainly made up of Saudi and Emirati troops while Kuwait only committed its naval forces.

Also Nabil al-Hammar, an adviser to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, told AP that there were no plans for a full withdrawal of the Gulf reinforcements.

He said some of the Saudi-led force that came to the aid of Bahrain's rulers in March will reposition units within the tiny kingdom, but no major withdrawal plans were under way.

The Saudi's pull out plan comes amid Bahraini government efforts to open a dialogue with the Shia opposition they crushed a few months ago.

Shia bloc questions talks

However, the main Shia opposition group, Al Wefaq, has questioned the Kings's offer of dialogue while political activists are being tortured and prosecuted on allegedly false charges.

The group has questioned how reconciliation efforts can proceed when many activists, particularly Bahraini medics have been sentenced by military trial courts.

"It's not a good atmosphere," said Ali Salman, the leader of Wefaq, who suggested Bahrain's rulers are seeking dialogue to improve the country's image as safe again for tourism and foreign investors.

The absence of Wefaq would be a blow to the credibility of the talks, which start on Saturday.

Washington has publicly backed the talks as the only option to calm tensions in one of its main Gulf military allies.

At the same time, the US is under growing pressure to take a harder line against Bahrain's ruling dynasty, which claims that Shia power Iran has a role in the protests.

The US had urged Bahraini King to meet some opposition demands. It also expressed concern about the severity of the sentences and the use of military-linked security courts against protesters.

Prosecution continues

Last week, eight prominent opposition activists were sentenced to life in prison. On Monday, 28 doctors and nurses faced charges of taking part in the protests and spreading "false news".

The Bahraini regime has been trying to portray a picture of normalcy in the tiny Gulf kingdom, home to US fifth fleet.

Last month, the Bahrain Grand Prix due to be held in the country was cancelled after rights groups put pressure on the Formula One governing body.

The king ordered the lifting on June 1 of a state of emergency that went into effect on March 15 during the crackdown.

About 30 people have been killed since February when Bahrain's majority Shias - inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East - started a campaign for greater freedoms and an end to the Sunni hold on power.

Hundreds of Shia opposition supporters and leaders have been arrested or dismissed from state jobs and universities.

Shias form more than about 70 per cent of Bahrain's 525,000 population, but they have little political rights vis-à-vis the minority Sunnis.

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