Bahrain's government on Thursday ordered the country's biggest Shiite party to be dismantled for "threatening peace" in the Gulf kingdom after weeks of Shiite-led anti-government protests against the Sunni rulers.
The decision against the Al Wefaq party is part of Bahrain's wide-ranging crackdown on the opposition after government forces crushed a wave of demonstrations by the island nation's Shiite majority demanding equal rights and a constitutional monarchy with an elected government.
Al Wefaq has been the leading political backer of the uprising in this tiny but strategically key Gulf country, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The protesters marched on financial institutions and royal palaces as well as occupied a main square in the capital Manama for a month during the unprecedented unrest against the country's minority Sunni rulers.
Justice Minister Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa said in a statement that a smaller Shiite party, Al Amal, had also been ordered disbanded.
The orders still require approval by the courts, which are to review the case within a month, he said. Approval seems likely since judges on Bahrain's courts are appointed by the king.
The minister accused the parties of "carrying out acts that had posed a threat to peace," and "inciting disrespect for state institutions," according to the state news agency. If the parties are disbanded, their members would be allowed to form new ones, the minister said.
The moves are likely to further anger and frustrate Shiites, whose bitterness has only grown since troops crushed the protests in Manama's Pearl Square on March 16.
A senior leader in Al Wefaq, Abdul-Jalil Khalil, told The Associated Press the party has not yet received an order to disband.
Bahrain declared martial law to quash the protests and has detained prominent opposition leaders, hundreds of protesters and leading human rights activists.
Earlier this week, authorities also accused Bahrain's main opposition newspaper of threatening national security. They said three of its former top editors will face trial for publishing "fabricated news" and "false pictures."
At least 30 people have died since the protests began Feb. 14. Among the dead are also four opposition supporters who died in custody, including a blogger.
Al Wefaq is the most influential party in Bahrain's seven-member Shiite opposition. Eighteen members of the party have been elected to nation's 40-member parliament last year although the legislators resigned from the body last month to protest the government crackdown on the protesters.
The parliament is Bahrain's only elected body. It holds limited authority since all the country's decisions _ including the appointment of government ministers _ rest with the king.
The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain for more than 200 years.