Bahraini lawmakers call on U.S. envoy to end "interference"
DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahraini lawmakers have urged the government to stop the U.S. ambassador in Bahrain from "interfering in domestic affairs" and meeting government opponents, newspaper reports and a lawmaker in the U.S.-allied Gulf state said on Monday.
The reports said the government had agreed to the proposal and would take diplomatic measures, but it was not immediately clear what those steps would entail.
The decision highlights the sensitivity in relations between the strategic allies, particularly in the wake of Bahrain's displeasure about a U.S. State Department report which was critical of the Gulf Arab country's government.
Pro-government daily Akhbar al-Khaleej reported that a cabinet session had agreed to the parliamentary proposal, which also called for the government to stop the ambassador, Thomas Krajeski, attending "repeated meetings with those who inspire sedition", an apparent reference to the Shi'ite-led opposition.
Asked to comment, Information Minister Samira Rajab told Reuters without elaborating: "We affirm that nothing will affect the presence of the U.S. ambassador in Bahrain".
It was not immediately clear whether the lawmakers' complaint about the ambassador was related to a specific incident. But Western diplomats in the Gulf normally try to meet as many different political opinion-makers as possible as part of their jobs.
Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family which crushed Shi'ite-led pro-democracy demonstrations that began in February 2011. At least 35 people were killed in the unrest, though the opposition says the number is higher. Lower-level unrest has since continued.
Under criticism from human rights groups, the government invited an independent inquiry to examine its handling of the trouble. Its report said the authorities had used widespread and excessive force, including torture to extract confessions.
The U.S. State Department report from last month said the government had failed to implement the most important recommendations detailed in that report, a finding rejected by the Bahraini government.
A Bahraini lawmaker who declined to be named confirmed news of the parliamentary proposal and echoed displeasure with the State Department report.
"The U.S. ambassador has a lot of interference in Bahrain and in the politics of the Bahraini emirate, since he is in constant contact with the opposition," the lawmaker told Reuters, speaking by telephone from Manama.
"The people were very upset. The public in Bahrain were very upset ... The report wasn't even," he said.
The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain declined to comment. In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman had no comment, saying it was not aware of any new legislation or proposal.
Khalil al-Marzouq, an official with the largest opposition group, Al Wefaq, said the report showed the government was failing to manage its domestic affairs and foreign relations.
"Al Wefaq is in contact with all diplomats, Western or otherwise. We do not hide anything. The U.S. ambassador meets with us, just as he meets with other parties whether they are from the government or pro-government groups," Marzouq told Reuters from Bahrain.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Writing by Yara Bayoumy, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)
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