Bahrain Shiites Enter Talks Amid Crack Down

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Middle East
Saturday, 02 July 2011


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Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition group, al Wefaq, said Friday it will participate in talks with the government, after the king said he would set up an independent inquiry into the violent crackdown on protesters earlier in the year.

But al Wefaq warned it will withdraw from the so-called national dialogue if its core demands, including a fully elected Parliament with complete legislative powers, aren't met. The government-sponsored talks are due to start Saturday and last a month.

Al Wefaq has called the national dialogue a sham, saying it under-represented Bahrain's formal political opposition, and some had expected the group to decline to take part. The group said that out of the 300 people the government invited for talks, only about 50 are from the formal political opposition. The rest, it said, is made up of pro-government civil and political societies and business leaders.

Analysts said the group's 11th-hour decision to participate was due to fears of being sidelined further in the political process. All 18 Wefaq members of Parliament resigned in February in protest of the government's initial crackdown on protesters.

"They will be concerned that not participating would only lead the government to punish them more," said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Chatham House in London, noting that two of the group's former members of Parliament are still in prison.

The Bahrain government welcomed the al Wefaq decision to join the talks.

"We are very supportive of all members who have been invited to join the dialogue," said a spokesman for the Bahraini government.

But tensions are still running high in the Gulf kingdom. On Thursday police fired volleys of tear gas at anti-government protesters in the poor Shiite village of Jidhafs.

Some observers say al Wefaq missed their best chance of securing significant political concessions from the government when Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad al-Khalifa offered a dialogue with the opposition in February, soon after the outbreak of anti-government protests, and when he repeated the call for negotiation in March.

The opposition failed to respond to the offers.

In an apparent olive branch to the opposition ahead of the start of the national dialogue, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Wednesday issued a decree setting up an independent commission to probe the bloody crackdown launched by authorities in February and March on pro-democracy protesters.

The fact-finding team is chaired by United Nations war-crimes expert Cherif Bassiouni, who is currently leading a UN investigation into human-rights abuses in Libya, and includes four other legal experts: Canadian Philippe Kirsch, the former president of the International Criminal Court; British human-rights lawyer Nigel Rodley; Mahnoush Arsanjani, an Iranian who worked as a U.N. legal officer; and Kuwaiti lawyer Badria al-Awadhi.

Mr. Bassiouni said his team would investigate deaths, arrests, allegations of torture and the military trials Bahrain has conducted in recent weeks and will have access to state files, top officials in the security forces and the ruling Al Khalifa family. "This team will work away from any government influence," he said. "We will ask for files, we will go to the prisons."

The commission will report at the end of the October, he added.

The creation of the commission and the start of the national dialogue come as Bahrain tries to repair its battered image after the crackdown, and the arrest and trial, of opposition figures. Last month, Bahrain sentenced eight high-profile political activists to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the monarchy. Two men have received the death penalty for allegedly killing two policeman during the unrest.

In recent days, al Wefaq has been under mounting pressure to join the talks from other formal political opposition groups, who say dialogue would be pointless without the largest Shiite bloc, which won over 60% of votes in last year's national election.

Note: This is the report of Wall Street Journal. We have published this news for the awareness of our readers. We are not responsible of the content.


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"This is not credible dialogue, but we will strive to get our demands," said Khalil Almarzooq, a senior al Wefaq member. He said the group's decision to accept the dialogue was partly motivated by fear of international criticism if they snubbed the talks.

Al Wefaq has called the national dialogue a sham, saying it under-represented Bahrain's formal political opposition, and some had expected the group to decline to take part. The group said that out of the 300 people the government invited for talks, only about 50 are from the formal political opposition. The rest, it said, is made up of pro-government civil and political societies and business leaders.

Analysts said the group's 11th-hour decision to participate was due to fears of being sidelined further in the political process. All 18 Wefaq members of Parliament resigned in February in protest of the government's initial crackdown on protesters.

"They will be concerned that not participating would only lead the government to punish them more," said Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa at Chatham House in London, noting that two of the group's former members of Parliament are still in prison.

The Bahrain government welcomed the al Wefaq decision to join the talks.

"We are very supportive of all members who have been invited to join the dialogue," said a spokesman for the Bahraini government.

But tensions are still running high in the Gulf kingdom. On Thursday police fired volleys of tear gas at anti-government protesters in the poor Shiite village of Jidhafs.

Some observers say al Wefaq missed their best chance of securing significant political concessions from the government when Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad al-Khalifa offered a dialogue with the opposition in February, soon after the outbreak of anti-government protests, and when he repeated the call for negotiation in March.

The opposition failed to respond to the offers.

In an apparent olive branch to the opposition ahead of the start of the national dialogue, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa on Wednesday issued a decree setting up an independent commission to probe the bloody crackdown launched by authorities in February and March on pro-democracy protesters.

The fact-finding team is chaired by United Nations war-crimes expert Cherif Bassiouni, who is currently leading a UN investigation into human-rights abuses in Libya, and includes four other legal experts: Canadian Philippe Kirsch, the former president of the International Criminal Court; British human-rights lawyer Nigel Rodley; Mahnoush Arsanjani, an Iranian who worked as a U.N. legal officer; and Kuwaiti lawyer Badria al-Awadhi.

Mr. Bassiouni said his team would investigate deaths, arrests, allegations of torture and the military trials Bahrain has conducted in recent weeks and will have access to state files, top officials in the security forces and the ruling Al Khalifa family. "This team will work away from any government influence," he said. "We will ask for files, we will go to the prisons."

The commission will report at the end of the October, he added.

The creation of the commission and the start of the national dialogue come as Bahrain tries to repair its battered image after the crackdown, and the arrest and trial, of opposition figures. Last month, Bahrain sentenced eight high-profile political activists to life in prison for plotting to overthrow the monarchy. Two men have received the death penalty for allegedly killing two policeman during the unrest.

In recent days, al Wefaq has been under mounting pressure to join the talks from other formal political opposition groups, who say dialogue would be pointless without the largest Shiite bloc, which won over 60% of votes in last year's national election.

Note: This is the report of Wall Street Journal. We have published this news for the awareness of our readers. We are not responsible of the content.


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