Bahrain seeks to dissolve main opposition group

Reuters , Thursday 14 Apr 2011

Bahraini government to seek dissolution of opposition group Wefaq under guise of constitutional violations

Bahrain said on Thursday it would seek court approval to dissolve the main Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq, its strongest action yet against a mainstream group with the most opposition seats in parliament.

"The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs announced it is raising legal action to dissolve the Islamic Action party and Wefaq group," a statement on the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) said.

"This is because of major violations of the constitution and laws of the kingdom, undertaking activities that harmed social peace, national unity, and inciting disrespect for constitutional institutions."

Last month Bahrain's Sunni Muslim rulers crushed weeks of protests, spreading security forces throughout the capital and calling in troops from Sunni-led Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The uprising unnerved Sunni-ruled Gulf states that feared the democracy movement could spread further if it was successful in Bahrain. Gulf rulers accused non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran of interfering in Bahrain, where Shi'ites form the majority.

King Hamad bin Isa was in Riyadh on Wednesday night for talks with Saudi Crown Prince Sultan that discussed improving ties between the two countries, BNA said.

Saudi Arabia, linked to the island state by a causeway, is seen as a financial lifeline for Bahrain. The king was at Riyadh airport to welcome back King Abdullah after his treatment abroad for illness in February, when analysts say Gulf pressure on Manama was strong to end the protest movement.

The government has launched a security crackdown in recent weeks, arresting hundreds of Shi'ites and firing Shi'ite workers from state companies.

"WRONG MESSAGE"

The government had not previously targeted Wefaq, which has called for a constitutional monarchy but did not join other groups who chose a more confrontational approach during the protests in calling for the overthrow of the ruling Khalifa family.

Wefaq mobilised more than 100,000 protesters during peaceful marches when the government still allowed gatherings.

It won 18 seats in Bahrain's 40-seat elected parliament last year, while complaining of gerrymandered electoral districts to prevent Shi'ites candidates demanding democratic reform from taking a majority. It resigned its seats in parliament in protest over the government crackdown.

Parliament has little power and the cabinet, appointed by the king, has been headed by the same member of the ruling family for four decades.

"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," said Mattar Ibrahim Mattar, a former Wefaq member of parliament.

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

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 political crisis.

The severity of the crackdown stunned Bahrain's Shi'ite majority, who say they have no loyalty to non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran. It also sparked criticism from Iran and Shi'ite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The United States, whose Fifth Fleet is stationed in the Gulf island kingdom, offered muted criticism of the government's crackdown and analysts say it refrained from pushing Bahrain to ease its security sweeps because of anxieties over interference from Iran, just across the Gulf.

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