DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's foreign minister said on Friday the Gulf Arab state was not trying to dissolve the biggest opposition party, in comments that came after the United States criticized legal action against the group, Wefaq.
Bahrain's Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs said on Thursday it would dissolve Wefaq and another group in Bahrain's toughest crackdown yet on Shi'ite dissidents who led an uprising to demand more say in the Sunni-ruled monarchy.
"A clarification: Bahrain is not seeking to dissolve political societies, official statement was incorrect," Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa wrote in a Twitter message.
"It's a court case against violations committed by the societies... In accordance with the constitution, elections will be held to fill seats vacated by Wefaq. All societies, including Wefaq, are encouraged to participate in elections and serve the people through parliament," he said.
The minister did not elaborate but his comment appeared to contradict justice ministry statements accusing Wefaq, which won 18 seats in elections for the 40-seat parliament last year, and the Islamic Action group, of trying to bring down the constitutional order and taking instructions from religious leaders.
The ministry said courts were expected to give a decision on the parties within one month and they would be dissolved immediately if the government's petition were upheld.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday that Washington was concerned by the move to disband Wefaq and urged the authorities to reverse the decision.
The government is led by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family, which has good relations with the United States. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Last month the government crushed weeks of protests led mainly by Shi'ites, deploying security forces throughout the capital and calling in troops from Sunni-led Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has called on the U.N. Security Council to protect opposition activists in Bahrain, saying unrest and suppression could destabilize the entire region, the official IRNA news agency said on Friday.
Tehran has been outspoken in its criticism of the Bahraini Sunni Muslim ruling family's suppression of protests by members of the Shi'ite majority. Bahrain's Gulf Arab allies -- some of which sent troops to the island state to bolster government forces -- have accused the Islamic Republic of interference.
(Reporting by Martina Fuchs; Editing by Andrew Hammond)