Bahrain says "significant" progress made on reforms

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2012 8:18 AM
Bahrain says "significant" progress made on reforms

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's king on Tuesday said his island state had rolled out a raft of reforms in the wake of international criticism of its crackdown on protesters last year but now needed to prove it could put them into practice.

At least 1,000 people were detained when The Sunni Muslim kingdom crushed protests led by its Shi'ite majority demanding curbs to the power of the ruling family and an end to sectarian discrimination.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said the country had made significant progress in reforming its security sector, judiciary, social policy and media since the unrest in February-March 2011.

"The doors of dialogue have and continue to be open," the king said in a speech. "We want our people to feel and see the differences these changes have on their lives. The challenge of the coming months will be to translate these into tangible, cultural changes."

Bahrain's opposition were not immediately available for comment but last week said the promised reforms were not enough and had made no change on the ground.

Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, called in troops from fellow Sunni monarchies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help crack down on protesters. The kingdom has acknowledged that a number of people died under torture and protest leaders were given jail terms by a military tribunal.

Bahrain later asked international lawyers led by Egyptian-American jurist Cherif Bassiouni to investigate the unrest, which brought Middle East political ferment that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt to the doorstep of top oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain's king on Tuesday was commenting on a report on how well the government was rolling out recommendations made by Bassiouni commission late last year.

The progress report said the kingdom had agreed to a new police code of conduct, had allowed the Red Cross to inspect detention centers and set up a body to investigate accusations that government employees killed or mistreated citizens.

Bahrain earlier this month imposed restrictions on human rights group monitoring the reforms it says it has carried out, and asked the U.N. investigator into torture to postpone a visit to the country until July.

Street protests in largely Shi'ite areas of the country continue on a daily basis, and feature confrontations with security forces using tear gas on demonstrators. Activists say torture continues, particularly at the hands of riot police.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond, writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Heavens)