Bahrain king enacts parliament reforms as protests continue

DUBAI Thu May 3, 2012 12:01pm EDT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain's king ratified constitutional reforms on Thursday that the government hopes will help end a year of protests, but the main opposition party denounced them as inadequate and said the struggle for democratic reforms would continue.

Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since activists launched protests in February 2011 after successful popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

The authorities tried to crush the uprising for democratic reforms with martial law and by bringing in Saudi troops, accusing majority Shi'ites of cooperating with Iran to change the system of government.

But more than a year later, unrest persists with weekly mass rallies by opposition parties and clashes between youth activists and riot police. Police fired teargas in Jidhafs on the edge of Manama on Wednesday.

"The door of dialogue is open and national accord is the goal of all dialogue," King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said in a ceremony broadcast on state television. "We hope at this important stage that all national forces and groups...will join in development and reform."

State tv dubbed the amendments "the consensus of a people".

The amendments, which boost powers to question and remove ministers and withdraw confidence in the cabinet, stem from a national dialogue the king organized after last year's uprising.

This was his second televised speech this year announcing the amendments after he appeared in January.

"The amendments have not changed the core of the dispute and have not ended the crisis. They have not met the people's hopes and they have consecrated the constitution of 2002 which gives the authorities the keys of government," said Khalil Marzouq, a senior member of opposition bloc Wefaq, at a news conference.

"There is no way these amendments can reflect popular will."

The current constitution came after a referendum on political reforms after King Hamad came to power in 1999. But the opposition has long accused the government of promulgating a one-sided constitution with powers that lack popular support.

The opposition want changes that would give the elected parliament full powers to legislate and form cabinets. At present the Al Khalifa family dominates government and accuses the opposition of having a Shi'ite sectarian agenda.

Wefaq says such talk is an excuse to maintain privileges.

The final implementation comes after clashes worsened in recent weeks in the run-up to Bahrain's Formula One Grand Prix on April 20-22. A protester was found dead during the race with extensive birdshot wounds and fractures, taking the total casualties since the uprising started to 81, Wefaq says.

Thirty-five, including five security personnel, died by the time martial law ended last June but others have died since, many from complications after exposure to tear gas, activists say. The government disputes those figures and causes of death.

At least 11 policemen were wounded by petrol bombs in April.

(Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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