UK urges Bahrain to embrace reform after protests

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2011 12:54 PM
UK urges Bahrain to embrace reform after protests

British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Bahrain's king on Monday to quickly implement reforms recommended in a scathing report into human rights abuses during the Arab nation's uprising.

A special commission, authorized by Bahrain's Sunni rulers, last month outlined the harsh treatment of anti-government protesters as state security forces tried to put down the largest of the uprisings to hit the Gulf.

The 500-page document compiled by an independent panel of legal experts was commissioned by Bahrain's leadership in a bid to ease tensions with Shiite opposition supporters. It documented the use of torture, excessive force and fast-track trials by the government.

While meeting with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Monday, Cameron urged the monarch "to deliver swiftly on the commitments he has made to implement the recommendations from the inquiry and to drive forward reform and reconciliation in the country, engaging with the opposition as part of that process," the British leader's office said in a statement.

Sheik Ali Salman, head of Bahrain's main Shiite opposition Wefaq party, told the BBC he was prepared to open talks with Bahrain's monarch. "I am able to take this challenge," Salman said.

The brief talks at Cameron's Downing Street home had not been announced in advance, amid concern over holding a meeting with a leader whose country is accused of serious mistreatment of opposition protesters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said critics urging Cameron not to meet with the king had been mistaken.

"I disagree," Hague wrote in a message on his Twitter account. "Engagement is best way to encourage reform (and) Bahrain is (an) important partner."

Amnesty International U.K.'s campaigns director Tim Hancock had called on Cameron to "make it clear that Bahrain still has lot to do to repair the damage of its crackdown."

"There should be no death sentences and no revenge convictions. Bahrain's human rights record is still heavily tarnished," Hancock said.

Cameron's office insisted he "emphasized the importance of strengthening respect for human rights in Bahrain."

The leaders also discussed boosting trade and opportunities for British business to invest in Bahrain's infrastructure sector.

The official Bahrain News Agency said the king had vowed to continue reforms in "judicial, social and economic" areas and to "attain more justice and fairness in the community where citizens' liberties and rights should be preserved."

Talks had also discussed how to "allow British companies to operate more easily in Bahrain," and make the nation their first port of call in the Gulf region, the news agency reported.

In a meeting with Bahrain's crown prince earlier this month, Hague said Britain's exports to Bahrain had increased by 30 percent in the past year and discussed hopes of furthering ties in the liquid natural gas sector.

Cameron offered British help to reform Bahrain's judicial system, following outrage over the prosecution of doctors and other medical professionals who treated protesters injured during the country's protests.

Since the critical report, Bahrain has hired John Yates, a former assistant commissioner of London's Metropolitan police, and the former head of Miami police, John Timoney, to advise the kingdom's police force. It has also vowed there will be no immunity for anyone suspected of abuses and said it would propose creating a permanent human rights commission.

Bahrain enjoys long-standing ties to both Britain and the U.S., which uses the tiny island nation as the base for its 5th Fleet naval force.

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Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai contributed to this report.