Bahrain denies Kuwait to mediate in political crisis

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 28, 2011 9:10 AM

By Frederik Richter

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's foreign minister said on Monday it was "completely untrue" that Kuwait would mediate to resolve the country's political crisis, a reaction leading opposition group Wefaq said augured badly for any resolution.

Shi'ite Muslim Wefaq said on Sunday it accepted an offer by Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to mediate between Bahrain's Sunni al-Khalifa ruling family and opposition groups.

Earlier this month, Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law in the Gulf Arab island kingdom and called in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Gulf neighbors to quell weeks of unrest during pro-democracy demonstrations.

That meant talks proposed by Bahrain's crown prince never happened.

And on Monday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said on his Twitter page there were no plans for Kuwaiti-led dialogue.

"Any talk about Kuwaiti mediation in Bahrain is completely untrue, there were previous efforts that were not answered, but these were ended by the act of National Safety (martial law)."

More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy, but calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed minority Sunnis, who fear that unrest serves non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran just across Gulf waters.

Seven civilians and four police were killed in the crackdown on protesters this month by security forces.

Wefaq member Mattar Ibrahim Mattar told Reuters by telephone the foreign minister's reaction signaled the state was not interested in any political dialogue.

"It's very disappointing, it signals that the government is ignoring international calls to stop its grave violations of human rights and demands to move to political solutions."

GCC WELCOMES MEDIATION

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) -- a regional political and economic bloc made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- welcomed the idea of Kuwaiti mediation on Sunday.

After the foreign minister's tweet on Monday, however, GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah stressed that mediation must come within the ruler's proposed framework for national dialogue, which opposition members complain includes too many pro-government groups and dilutes their voice.

"Any mediation to support security and stability from Kuwait or others, we welcome it. But there is a national dialogue and this is the main umbrella to overcome the problem," Attiyah told reporters in Riyadh.

Wefaq member Jasim Husain said on Sunday that Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah had offered to mediate between Bahrain's Sunni al-Khalifa ruling family and Shi'ite opposition groups. And Wefaq's Jasim Husaid said Ali al-Matrook, a Kuwaiti Shi'ite businessman, was one of the mediators.

Kuwait daily al-Seyassah said on Sunday, citing unnamed political sources, that a Wefaq delegation was to meet Kuwaiti politicians including Parliament Speaker Jassem al-Kharafi.

Kuwait, which has a Shi'ite minority of its own, has sent navy vessels to Bahrain under a Gulf security pact to patrol its northern coastline.

(Writing and additional reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Louise Ireland)