Main Bahrain opposition group temporarily boycotts talks

Reuters News
Posted: May 22, 2013 1:45 PM

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's main opposition group suspended its participation in reconciliation talks with the government for two weeks on Wednesday, blaming the slow pace of talks and the raid last week on a top Shi'ite Muslim cleric's home.

Little progress has been achieved in the talks that began in February as part of efforts to end two years of political deadlock following pro-democracy protests by majority Shi'ite Muslims in 2011 that were crushed by the Sunni-led government.

Bahrain's information affairs minister, Samira Rajab, said Al-Wefaq's decision to boycott the talks showed the group was not serious about helping overcome the problems that continue to divide the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state.

Wefaq cited a raid by security forces on the home of Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassim near the capital Manama on May 17 and what it said was the deliberate "delay and absence of positive response" by government representatives at the talks as reasons for pulling out.

"Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, and in coordination with the national democratic opposition parties, declares it will temporarily stop attending the dialogue's preparation sessions for two weeks," it said in a statement.

Rajab said the talks were continuing with other opposition groups and said Wefaq's decision was dictated by "foreign" forces to obstruct reconciliation efforts.

"Those who demand reforms should start with themselves, and show serious intentions to reach reconciliation," she added.

Six opposition groups have been participating in the talks, alongside with government officials and several pro-government associations.

Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has been hit by unrest since mass pro-democracy protests in early 2011, becoming a frontline in a region-wide tussle for influence between Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.

The mass protests were crushed but demonstrators drawn mainly from Bahrain's Shi'ite majority have continued small protests on an almost daily basis demanding the Sunni ruling family call elections and create a constitutional monarchy.

In a statement to state media, Bahrain's chief of public security made no mention of the raid on Qassim's home but said police in the area early on Friday had come under fire from a "locally made weapon", injuring two officers.

In response, "necessary measures were taken to reinforce the security force patrols with members of an anti-terrorism unit ... to uncover the source of the gunfire", Major-General Tariq Al-Hassan told the state news agency BNA.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Alison Williams)