Bahrain to curtail freedoms to cope with Shi'ite violent protests

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

ABU DHABI Bahrain, rocked by a year of increasingly violent Shi'ite protests, plans to curtail the right to assemble and protest.

Officials said the kingdom's parliament would be presented with a package of legislation that would reduce the freedom of assembly. They said this would include restrictions on rallies, public meetings and other gatherings.

The Cabinet was briefed on the new legislation on Oct. 31 during a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa. Officials said the Cabinet approved the principles enumerated in the draft legislation.

Bahrain has been rocked by increasingly violent Shi'ite protests connected to demands for greater representation as well as the kingdom's pro-U.S. policy. Over the last month, Shi'ites have protested the arrest and prosecution of an opposition leader, Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja. Shi'ites form the majority of the Sunni-led kingdom and Bahraini officials have asserted that community leaders were supported by Iran.

"The [Shura] Council has been following with great concern the escalating and unruly incidents, that have caused great harm to the country's economic achievements and political stability," a statement from the kingdom's consultative panel said. "Harming the country's reputation and threatening its security and stability is not acceptable for any motive."

[On Monday, a Bahraini court released four suspects charged with planning a bombing campaign in the kingdom. The suspects, released without bail until their trial resumes on Dec. 6, were Sunni Muslims and included a leading preacher linked to Al Qaida.]

The height of the unrest took place on Oct. 29 when unidentified assailants attacked police and civil defense forces in Manama. The assailants hurled firebombs toward a police car and civil defense patrol. "We do not want confrontation," said Ali Salman, leader of Al Wefaq Islamic Society, a Shi'ite opposition group.

Officials said the legislation would not ban protests. But they said the proposed laws would seek to guarantee that protests remain peaceful.

At the same time, the government has approved a series of bonuses for the security forces. Khalifa said this would include the Bahrain Defense Forces, National Guard and police. The prime minister also ordered the Interior and Defense Ministry officials to draft criteria for assessing the performance of their staff.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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