Defiant Bahrain speeds up moves against main opposition bloc

AFP , Thursday 23 Jun 2016

Isa Qassim supporters
Supporters hold posters with photo of Bahrain's leading Shia cleric Isa Qassim during a sit-in outside his home in the village of Diraz west of Manama, Bahrain June 21, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Bahrain began court proceedings to dissolve the main Shiite opposition bloc Al-Wefaq on Thursday, bringing them forward from October in defiance of UN and US appeals for them to be dropped.

The bloc was the largest in parliament before its lawmakers resigned in protest at the crushing of 2011 protests for an elected government and Washington has called the crackdown on it "alarming".

The administrative court had not been due to meet on the government's request to dissolve it until October 6 but brought the session forward at the request of Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa, a judicial source said.

It set its next meeting for September 4.

The court already suspended all of Al-Wefaq's activities on June 14, ordering its offices closed and assets frozen.

The justice ministry said the bloc provided a haven for "terrorism, radicalisation and violence" and opened the way for "foreign interference" in the kingdom's affairs.

That was an allusion to Shiite Iran, which Sunni-ruled Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among its Shiite majority.

Despite repeated appeals from its US ally for "reform and reconciliation", Bahrain has carried out an intensifying crackdown on leading Shiite figures in recent weeks.

On Monday, it stripped the kingdom's top Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim of his nationality, prompting street protests in his home village of Diraz, west of Manama.

Last month, an appeals court more than doubled a four-year prison sentence handed down against Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman on charges of inciting violence.

Tiny but strategic Bahrain lies just across the Gulf from Iran and is the home base of the US Fifth Fleet.

It has been wracked by persistent unrest ever since the crushing of the 2011 protests.

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