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Monday, February 21, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Iran-backed Shi'ite opposition moving to bring Bahrain to a standstill

ABU DHABI — The Shi'ite opposition, said to enjoy support from Iran, intends to paralyze Bahrain as part of an effort to topple the Sunni-led kingdom.


Opposition sources said the Gulf Cooperation Council state would be brought to a halt by a nationwide labor strike on Feb. 21. They said the strike by the General Federation of Bahraini Trade Unions would bolster the demands of the Shi'ite opposition for democratic reforms.

"We are calling for people to strike until all military forces are withdrawn and the peaceful protests are allowed to continue without any confrontation," deputy labor federation secretary-general Karim Radhi said.

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The military has already agreed to withdraw from Manama, which led to the return of thousands of protesters in Manama's Pearl Square. But the labor federation, which represents 60 unions, has called for guarantees that the opposition campaign would not be assaulted by government forces.

"There is also another condition to the call — that these people be free to continue demonstrating without being attacked," Radhi said.

The sources said the strike would also include workers from the state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Co. and Gulf Air.

"We have over 1,300 members, including captains and cabin crew and they have all been invited to strike," Gulf Air Trade Union chairman Habib Al Nabul said. "But it is up to each individual to make their own decision."

The Shi'ite unrest in Bahrain has risen in wake of military intervention in Manama. The United States, which maintains the headquarters of its Navy's Fifth Fleet, has urged King Hamad Bin Hamad Al Khalifa to refrain from attacking peaceful protesters.

The opposition sources acknowledged that their model for the current campaign was the unrest that toppled the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They said Pearl Square, which now contains a medical tent, sound system and barriers, would serve as the focus of the opposition campaign, which has demanded a significant reduction in the power of the king.

"Our protests are peaceful and will continue being peaceful and it is up to the government to prove that it has no ill intention by violently removing us from this place," Shi'ite opposition chief Ali Salman said.

The monarchy has called for a formal dialogue with the Bahraini opposition. The effort was said to have been led by Crown Prince Salman, who ordered the withdrawal of military and police from Pearl Square.

"We now begin a new phase, a phase in which we will discuss all our issues sincerely and honestly," Salman said. "I would like to convey the message that calm is required at this time so that all parties can put forward their views and issues in a responsible and productive way."

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