Bahrain to lift ban on opposition party

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 18, 2011 11:28 AM
Bahrain to lift ban on opposition party

MANAMA (Reuters) - The government will lift a ban on Bahrain's second largest opposition party, the group said on Saturday, ahead of a national dialogue to ease the Gulf island kingdom's political crisis.

Authorities shut down Waad, a leftist party aligned with the largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq, in April amid a crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy protests.

Waad spokesman Radhi al-Mousawi said the government would lift the ban on its headquarters in Manama Saturday and later on its office Muharraq.

The state news agency BNA quoted the Justice Ministry as saying steps were being taken to lift the ban.

Mousawi said the group had sent a statement to the government welcoming the political dialogue, set by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to begin on July 1, and also asked for the king to look into the case of Waad's detained leader.

Ibrahim Sharif is in prison along with several other opposition leaders including the president of hardline Shi'ite Islamist party al-Haq, Hassan Mushaimaa.

Both are among 21 people facing trial on charges of plotting a coup with backing from "foreign terrorist groups."

Bahrain's Sunni rulers have accused the protesters, backed mostly by Shi'ite groups but also by secular Waad, of being backed by Iran. Opposition groups deny the charges.

Bahraini opposition activists said Waad had been under pressure to welcome the national dialogue in return for an end to the ban.

Both Wefaq and Waad have stopped short of saying they will join the talks. Some Wefaq members have said they are wary of taking part because of reports that dozens of groups will be invited.

Government supporters say groups that are not political parties should attend to represent Bahrainis who are not politicized.

The opposition argues it will dilute their voice in negotiations.

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Wefaq, told crowds in a rally of over 10,000 people Friday that too many groups would "be a social gathering, not a political dialogue."

Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who led an earlier round of talks that failed just as the government began its crackdown, called on all citizens to work for dialogue.

Sheikh Salman, seen as a moderate in the ruling family, is the preferred choice of the opposition to lead talks. They have criticized the king's choice of the speaker of the state's lower parliament, seen as conservative on political reform.

(Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by David Cowell)