Bahrain asks court to suspend main opposition bloc's activities

MANAMA Sun Jul 20, 2014 9:38am EDT

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MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's Justice Ministry has asked a court to suspend the activities of the country's main Shi'ite Muslim opposition group, a move that could set back efforts to restart reconciliation talks in the Gulf Arab kingdom.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, quelled a popular uprising in 2011 when majority Shi'ite Muslims led mass protests demanding a greater role in running the Sunni-ruled island but low level civil unrest has persisted.

The ministry asked for a three-month suspension of Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society "so it can correct its legal status", state news agency BNA reported on Sunday.

The ministry said the group had lost its legal status after four of its general conferences were annulled due to a lack of delegates and a failure to comply with requirements for transparency in convening these conferences.

The move comes a little over a week after Wefaq's leader Sheikh Ali Salman and his political assistant, Khalil al-Marzouq, were charged with holding an illegal meeting with a U.S. diplomat.

Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor was expelled from Bahrain in June, an incident that has opened a rift between Washington and one of its main regional allies.

Marzouq had been cleared of terrorism charges in June, raising hopes that suspended reconciliation talks between the government and the opposition could get back on track.

Wefaq, which says it advocates non-violent activism, had boycotted talks with the government after Marzouq's arrest in September.

A meeting between Bahrain's crown prince and opposition leaders in January may have pulled the discussions back from the brink of collapse but mutual mistrust runs deep. Little progress has been made since then and the opposition has said talks are "frozen".

(Reporting by Farishta Saeed; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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