11/24/2011

Bahrain opposition urges government to resign

Financial Times
By Simeon Kerr in Dubai


 Clashes broke out in Bahrain a day after a damning report was released detailing excessive use of force and systematic torture against pro-democracy protesters earlier this year. Mourners gathered on Thursday in Aali, south of the capital, to bury a man who died in a car accident on Wednesday. His family claims he died when his car was rammed by a police vehicle; the government says his car careered into a house. High quality global journalism requires investment.


Tear gas and stun grenades were used against youths after the funeral, eye witnesses said. Clashes between youths from the majority Shia have become an almost daily occurrence on the island, a US ally, whose government is dominated by members of the minority Sunni community. The continuing cycle of violence highlights the challenges faced in any attempt by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to implement reforms recommended by the report he accepted at a ceremony on Wednesday. The report by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry charged the security forces with excessive use of force, including use of tear gas, shotguns and rubber bullets, in the run-up to and aftermath of the security crackdown on protesters in mid-March. The report says 46 people, mainly protesters, died between February and October. The clashes came after Bahrain’s main opposition group called for the resignation of the government in the light of the panel’s report, which included evidence of systematic torture requiring systemic reform.
Al-Wefaq, the largest group representing the majority Shia, who have been calling for greater rights, also noted that the BICI found no discernible link between Iran and the protesters. The political society called for the withdrawal of a contingent of Saudi-led troops, who used the threat from Iran as a pretext to enter the kingdom in mid-March. The government insists that it has evidence of interference from the Islamic republic but declined to release it to the commission for security reasons.
As Bahrain digests the implications of the panel’s findings, Khalil al-Marzooq, senior Wefaq official, told reporters that the group would consider working with the crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, if he was empowered to implement the report’s recommendations free of interference. “If he is given a chance to revive his initiative for a resolution we are ready to work with him,” he told reporters.

The BICI report also says the opposition missed a chance for significant constitutional reform by failing to grab the opportunity of a national dialogue leading to a constitutional referendum in the days before Saudi troops entered Bahrain to back the government’s crackdown. Al-Wefaq also called for the UN to play a role in implementing the report’s recommendations. These include setting up a committee spanning official and opposition members to implement the report, which also includes setting up an impartial mechanism to hold public officials to account for systematic use of torture, among other abuses. The BICI made many criticisms of the way investigations into abuses were carried out by the government, calling for judicial reforms. Many in the Shia community fear the government will drag its feet on implementing changes called for by the report, given previous pledges of accountability that have not been met.