Kuwait to mediate in Bahrain crisis

MANAMA Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:45am EDT

Anti-government protesters flee after riot police fire rounds of tear gas to disperse them in the mainly Shi'ite village of Diraz, west of Manama, March 25, 2011. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Anti-government protesters flee after riot police fire rounds of tear gas to disperse them in the mainly Shi'ite village of Diraz, west of Manama, March 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed

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MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq has accepted Kuwait as a mediator with Bahrain's government to end a political crisis gripping the tiny kingdom, a member of Wefaq said on Sunday.

Bahrain imposed martial law and called in troops from neighboring Sunni-ruled states earlier this month to quell weeks of unrest by mostly Shi'ite protesters.

Jasim Husain, a member of Wefaq, said Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah had offered to mediate between Bahrain's Sunni al-Khalifa ruling family and Shi'ite opposition groups.

"We welcome the idea of bringing in an outside element," Husain told Reuters.

Husain said talks had to address issues outlined by Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa before Gulf state troops entered Bahrain. These include an elected government and reform of electoral districts that the opposition says were drawn to ensure a Sunni majority in parliament.

"The fear is that the results (of mediation) may not be acceptable to the opposition or that they can't be sold to the public," said Husain.

DEMANDS DROPPED

Wefaq and its six allies said last week they would not enter talks unless the government pulled troops off the streets and freed prisoners.

Observers said Wefaq had now dropped these demands.

"This is the most significant political development in the efforts aimed at reaching a peaceful solution," said Mansoor al-Jamri, editor of the opposition Al-Wasat newspaper.

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Bahrain's ruling family as a bulwark against regional Shi'ite power Iran, have sent troops to Bahrain to help it quell weeks of pro-democracy protests.

Kuwait, which has a Shi'ite minority of its own, has sent navy vessels to Bahrain under a Gulf security pact to patrol its northern coastline.

The Gulf Cooperation Council -- a regional political and economic bloc made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- welcomed the mediation move.

"We hope that this initiative will be in the interest of security and stability," Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah told reporters in Kuwait.

Wefaq and its allies want an elected council to redraft the constitution, a demand over which preliminary talks with Khalifa collapsed shortly before Gulf troops arrived and Bahrain drove protesters off the streets and banned public gatherings.

More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy, but calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest serves Iran, separated from Bahrain by just a short stretch of Gulf waters.

Seven civilians and four police died in the crackdown. The ferocity of the government response to the unrest stunned Bahrain's majority Shi'ites and angered Iran.

A Wefaq delegation is set to meet Kuwaiti politicians including Parliament Speaker Jassem al-Kharafi, Kuwaiti daily al-Seyassah said on Sunday, citing unnamed political sources.

Ali al-Matrook, a Kuwaiti Shi'ite businessman, is one of the mediators, Wefaq's Husain said.

Bahrain cut curfew times again, by an hour, on Sunday. From Seef Mall through the financial district to the diplomatic area the curfew now runs from 11 p.m. (0200 GMT) to 4 a.m. (0700 GMT), cut gradually from 12 hours when it was first imposed.

(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal in Manama, and Eman Goma and Mahmoud Harbi in Kuwait; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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Comments (3)
sayedyousif wrote:
The regime in Bahrain is not serious in moving forward talks with opposition group, otherwise it would withdraw troops from street as protesters are not armed and demonstrating peacefully.
From past experience, there have been many promises by king for reforms, but non of those was performed. There is state distrust between the regime and Bahrain people, and it should solve this issue initially by changing the prime minister who served 40 years (since the independence of 1971), and arrange governmental election.
The talks should also discuss real constitutional monarch like United Kingdom, Sweden, and Spain, where the king and royal family have no role in ruling the countries.

Mar 27, 2011 3:52am EDT  --  Report as abuse
baatski wrote:
I wish media and strict followers of the media would stop portraying the unrest in Bahrain as a case of the people against the Kingdom/government… It is NOT the case… Quite a number of Bahraini’s are very happy with their government and kingdom (incl a number of Shi’ites)…

Reuters has got the figures right: “More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi’ites, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy, but calls by hardliners are for the overthrow of the monarchy..” The remainder 40pct are not taking part in this struggle – ie it is not the people vs the government…!!

Please remember that what is going on in Bahrain bears no resemblance to what’s happened in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria… I am a non-Bahraini living in Bahrain – a beautiful country with beatiful people- and my heart cries for Bahrain… I also lived in Egypt for a number of years and can see where the unrest there came from…

Praying for peace…

Mar 27, 2011 9:22am EDT  --  Report as abuse
HassanB wrote:
Dear Reuters, you have mistaken on some of the details of this report. What is happening right now is not a martial law but infact its a state of national safety Bahrain. Its completely different, the constitution is active which means that all government and private sectors are running normally. With that being said no agreements from Kuwait have been finalized regarding to aid Wefaq as a mediator in the national dialogue. Also, you have pointed out that 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi’ites, under what bases have you come up to this conclusion? There hasn’t been a Bahraini census that uncovered the true amount. Its interesting how you keep on insisting that what’s happening in Bahrain is a sectarian conflict which is absolutely incorrect. Throughout this month, Bahrain has witnessed a clear political takeover that has been managed by pro Iranian cells that had clear agendas of foreign invasion. Their refusal to engage into the national dialogue is not because of any barriers from the government of Bahrain but infact they know that their demands are unacceptable by all sectors of the population. I hope that you start listening to the silent majority of this population so many people like me can begin to appreciated the neutrality in reporting that Reuters is so proud of.

Mar 28, 2011 4:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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