|Bahrain's king said his nation had 'recognised need to proceed toward reform' [AFP]
Bahrain's king has called on the United Nations to recognise Palestine as a member state, during a speech in which he glossed over his government's violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests earlier this year.
King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa told the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday that recognising an independent Palestinian state would put an end to an era of "bitter Arab-Israeli conflict".
"Today, more than any time before, the international community has an opportunity to do justice to the brotherly Palestinian people and to assist it to achieve its legitimate aspirations by recognising its independent Palestinian state on their own national territory, with East Jerusalem as its capital," he said.
He added that Israel must completely withdraw from all Arab-occupied territories.
The king also mentioned Yemen and Libya in his wide-ranging speech, saying Bahrain supports a Gulf initiative to "maintain the security, stability and unity of Yemen and to achieve the aspirations of its people". He said Bahrain will also continue to support the Libyan people.
'Building on consensus'
In reference to his own nation, King Hamad said more than a decade ago, Bahrain had "recognised the need to proceed towards greater reform and improvement, keeping in mind the supreme interests of the people".
"In all its modernisation endeavours, the kingdom of Bahrain has persistently followed the approach of dialogue, building on the consensus of the people of Bahrain."
In response to the speech, Matar Ibrahim Ali Matar, a former member of parliament with the al-Wefaq party, told Al Jazeera that Bahrainis want to see such words translated into action.
"The king gave positive words, but we want to see those positive words implemented on the ground," Matar said.
"The king spoke about [continuing] modernisation. We are worried about the term 'continue'. If they are going to continue in the current track, we don't believe that the current track is a track of modernisation. It is not a track based on building equality between people.
"In many [former] speeches of the king, they were very positive. The problem is, we don't see those positive terms implemented."
The speech came a day after pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Manama, the Bahraini capital, disrupting traffic in the city's central business district in a bid to step up pressure on the government ahead of by-elections this weekend.
The demonstration was called on Wednesday by an internet-based youth group that had acted as one of the main organisers of a popular uprising against the Bahraini government, demanding more rights for its Shia-majority citizens.
Protests began in February, but have been suppressed by the country's security forces.
Tensions have been on the rise in the tiny Gulf island kingdom ahead of elections scheduled to take place on Saturday.
The polls were called to replace 18 of the al-Wefaq MPs who walked out of the 40-member parliament in February in protest against a government crackdown on protesters.
Bahraini security forces, aided by a Saudi-led contingent of forces from Gulf countries, drove protesters out of Pearl Square in mid-March.
Authorities say that 24 people were killed during the unrest, while the opposition puts the death toll at 30.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies