Bahrain backs off plan to ban opposition after US criticism
The abrupt U-turn suggests that the US, which has been largely silent over the past month, still wields influence over the tiny kingdom despite its acquiescence to Saudi interests there.
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The US has been largely silent as Bahrain has undertaken a campaign to crush the largely Shiite protest movement that began in February calling for democratic reforms by the kingdom’s Sunni rulers.Skip to next paragraph
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Human rights advocates in Bahrain say that at least 31 people have died during the government crackdown. More than 400 have also been arrested, including many activists and those who spoke out against the campaign, and four of those detained have so far died in police custody. Hundreds of the Shiites have been fired from their jobs, and others are targeted at checkpoints for beatings or arrest.
US envoy headed back to Bahrain next week
While the US initially urged Bahrain's government to negotiate with the opposition, it had issued no strong condemnation of Bahrain's use of violence and intimidation since the middle of March, when Saudi Arabia sent more than 1,000 troops into Bahrain to help quell the protests.
On April 1, the State Department spokesman, in response to a reporter's question, did criticize the detention of prominent blogger Mahmood al-Yousif, and Bahrain later released him. This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned Bahrain in an address at the US-Islamic World Forum in Washington, saying, “Violence is not and cannot be the answer. A political process is – one that advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain.”
Bahrain’s original decision to close down Al Wefaq was yet another indication that the government of Bahrain was not interested in pursuing a political solution to the unrest. Al Wefaq did not organize the original protests that began Feb. 14, though it later supported them, and it never called for the overthrow of the ruling family as some protesters did.
The group was in contact in March with US envoy Jeffrey Feltman, who was trying to bring the government and opposition to the table for dialogue. That effort failed when Saudi troops were called into the country on March 14 to help put down the uprising. Mr. Feltman, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, will head back to Bahrain next week.
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