Bahrain's proposed reforms snubbed by opposition

AP , Monday 10 Oct 2011

Officials in violence-wracked Bahrain begin work Monday on political reforms that include boosting parliamentary powers, but steps are dismissed as too little after more than eight months of clashes

Bahrain opposition leader
Shia cleric Ali Salman, head of the opposition Al-Wefaq society, speaks during a press conference Monday, 10 October 2011, in Manama, Bahrain.(Photo: AP/Hasan Jamali)

A package of reform in reform-opted  Bahrain would transfer some new powers to elected lawmakers, but leaves intact the sweeping controls of Sunni rulers. Bahrain's majority Shia began protests in February seeking more rights and demanding an end to the monarchy's grip on the country's affairs.

The reforms are likely to be approved, but they appear unlikely to ease a crisis that has left about 35 people dead and delivered a serious blow to the economy of the strategic island nation — home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

The official Bahrain News Agency said the prime minister met with government officials to discuss the reform package. The final report will be submitted later for approval to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

The proposed reforms include allowing parliament to vet Cabinet ministers. They also call for a review of voting districts — which Shia leaders claim are gerrymandered to undercut Shia political strength.

Shia's account for about 70 per cent of Bahrain's population, but say they have faced decades of discrimination such as being blocked from top political and security posts.

The main Shia political party, Al-Wefaq, walked out of national reconciliation talks in July. Months earlier, their 18 members in parliament had resigned en masse to protest crackdowns that included hundreds of arrests and Shia workers purged from jobs.

The Wefaq leader, Sheik Ali Salman, scoffed at the proposed reforms as doing nothing to reduce the powers of the 200-year-old dynasty. He said the measures "keep Bahrain as a dictatorship, not a democratic state."

"We can go and ask the people of Bahrain," he told reporters. "Do they want a referendum to decide whether to have an elected government or not?"

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