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Bahrain announces fund to pay crackdown victims

Bahrain creates fund designed to pay anyone harmed by security forces or public officials during the period of mass protests that started in February

Reuters , Wednesday 21 Sep 2011
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Bahrain has announced it is creating a fund to compensate victims of popular unrest earlier this year, but did not say how much it would pay out or precisely how the money would be allocated.

The National Victims' Compensation Fund is designed to pay anyone who was "materially, morally or physically harmed" by security forces or public officials during protests this year, state news agency BNA reported.

Bahrain, a majority Shi'ite kingdom ruled by a Sunni royal family, saw weeks of protests this year that were crushed by the security forces with assistance from troops from neighbouring Gulf states.

More than 30 people died since start of the unrest, which was inspired by democracy protests in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab states.

The kingdom's rulers are keen to restore a sense of normalcy to the streets and rehabilitate their image after drawing criticism from human rights groups and long-time ally the United States for their handling of the unrest.

Families of victims and people injured while helping victims will qualify for compensation, according to the decree issued by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Rights groups have said medical staff were targeted for treating wounded protesters.

BNA said the compensation fund would be independent and follow guidelines from the United Nations on reparations. Each claimant would be judged by a "specialised court".

The fund will be receive money from the state budget, donations and investment returns, BNA said. It gave no further details on the process or the size of payouts, but said they would be "substantial".

With unrest sweeping the Arab world this year, wealthy Gulf oil states have tried to deflect public anger by increasing state salaries and social spending.

On Tuesday, Bahrain approved an additional budget outlay of 388.5 million dinars ($1.03 billion) over two years to cover wage increases for government employees and improve living standards.

A high-profile panel of lawyers funded by the Bahraini government is currently investigating the unrest and allegations of widespread torture by security forces during the crackdown.

Bahrain has denied there was ever a policy of excessive use of force against protesters or detainees.

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