Bahrain backs off on opposition party ban

The pull back from outlawing Wefaq party comes after criticism from US, but probe into the main Shia group continues.

    The Bahraini government has accused the Shia groups of fomenting unrest in the Gulf kingdom

    Bahrain's government appears to be pulling back from plans to dismantle the main Shia opposition group after swift criticism from Washington and other allies.

    The state-run Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday that authorities are holding off any action until the outcome of investigations into Wefaq party, which played a key role in recent pro-democracy protests, and a smaller Shia bloc.

    Bahraini authorities said on Thursday they will seek court approval to dissolve the opposition groups for alleged links to the Shia-led uprising in the Gulf kingdom that hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

    The US State Department quickly raised concerns about the plans to block the political groups.

    Wefaq has withdrawn its lawmakers from Bahrain's parliament to protest the government's crackdown on dissent, including a declaration of martial law.

    The justice ministry said on Thursday it was seeking to ban Wefaq, which called supporters onto the streets in mass protests last month, for "undertaking activities that harmed social peace, national unity, and inciting disrespect for constitutional institutions."

    The ministry also moved to ban the Islamic Action party, a Wefaq ally. Wefaq is the biggest party in Bahrain's parliament, holding 18 out of 40 seats.

    Political solution

    Mattar Ibrahim Mattar, a former Wefaq member of parliament, said: "It's reached a stage where they say there are no more moderates; that the entire opposition consists of extremists. This is the wrong message.

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    "The hardliners (in government) never wanted Wefaq to take part in elections and get seats in parliament".

    Wefaq said in a statement that it had always complied with Bahraini laws and regulations and that it was still committed to a political solution to Bahrain's crisis.

    Bahrain remains under a state of emergency following a government crackdown on protests.

    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have sent troops to the Gulf island nation to help quell the demonstrations and protect facilities including oil and gas installations and financial hubs.

    According to the Bahrain Human Rights Council, the government has arrested more than 370 opponents of the regime since the introduction of emergency rule.

    Ongoing crackdown

    Thousands of protesters – many of them Shias frustrated with what they say is systemic economic and political discrimination – had staged daily rallies in Manama calling for greater democracy, but protests had been quelled in recent weeks with a heavy security presence on the streets.

    Wefaq bemoaned the use of foreign troops which arrived less than 24 hours after Bahraini police clashed with demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations which left seven protesters dead.

    Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states have traded accusations with Iran of meddling and interference in Bahrain.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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