Bahraini Shia leader could accept king

Reuters, Sunday 27 Feb 2011

Hassan Mushaimaa, a leading Shia dissident, announced he could accept a British-style constitutional monarchy but members of the royal family should not be in government

A Bahraini hardline Shia dissident said on Sunday he would accept a Western-style constitutional monarchy in the Gulf Arab kingdom if protesters supported the measure.

Hassan Mushaimaa was allowed to return to Bahrain as part of several concessions by the ruling Al-Khalifa family to Bahrain's majority Shia who have been at the forefront of nearly two weeks of protests demanding more say in government.

Mushaimaa, leader of the mostly Shia Haq movement which has in the past questioned the legitimacy of the king, also did not rule out the Sunni royal family's removal.

"If it is a real monarchy as we know it in England, the royal family are honorary but do not control government, OK," he told a news conference, adding that no member of the Al-Khalifa should be in government.

"If all the people, and especially the people on Pearl Square agree on this (then that is good) ... that's why the Haq movement and me did not fix demands, we are talking about the demands of the people."

Mushaimaa returned to Bahrain on Saturday after being pardoned by the king along with 24 other Shia activists accused of attempting to topple the government using violence. The youth movement occupying Pearl Square in the capital Manama has demanded the removal of the Al-Khalifa family.

More moderate Shia groups, such as Wefaq that draw substantially higher numbers in support, have called for the resignation of the cabinet and a new constitution, under which the government is elected.

Currently, the government is appointed by the king and the majority of ministers are from the royal family.

Mushaimaa said he was interested in talks with other opposition groups such as Wefaq but did not give any details on possible common demands.

Tens of thousands of people thronged the streets of Manama on Friday, declared a day of mourning by the government, in one of the biggest demonstrations since a "Day of Rage" on Feb 14.

Security forces did not intervene.

Seven people were killed and hundreds wounded before Bahraini rulers, under pressure from their Western allies, pledged to allow peaceful protests and offered dialogue with opponents.

The government has released more than 300 people detained since a crackdown on Shia unrest in August.

It denies there is any discrimination against Shia in Bahrain. Tens of thousands of pro-government supporters have also taken to the streets in recent days, saying that reforms launched by Bahrain's king a decade ago have resulted in freedoms and democracy unique in the Gulf Arab region.

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