* Bahrain's Ministry of Interior to create 20,000 jobs
* Announcement seen as move to give Shi'ites jobs
* Protesters stage first sit-in outside cabinet
By Frederik Richter
MANAMA, March 6 Plans by Bahrain to create
20,000 jobs in its security apparatus could be a move to open up
government jobs to the country's disgruntled Shi'ites and
appease protesters against the Sunni-led government.
Bahrain has seen its worst unrest since the 1990s after a
nascent youth movement emboldened by similar protests elsewhere
in the Arab world took to the streets last month and were met
with heavy-handed police violence that killed seven.
The country, an ally of the United States and top oil
exporter Saudi Arabia, is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa family
and its majority Shi'ites have complained of discrimination in
government jobs. The government denies this.
Bahrain's Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah
al-Khalifa told local newspaper editors on Saturday that King
Hamad bin Isa had ordered a round of new hires in a number of
government institutions, including 20,000 jobs in his ministry.
"We hope this step will have a positive effect on the safety
and security of citizens," al-Wasat daily quoted the minister as
saying. "The minister said national dialogue was the way to
achieving political stability and of raising demands."
The opposition said it interpreted the announcement as an
attempt to appease Shi'ite protesters who say government jobs
have been shut to them.
"I think it's mainly meant for Shi'ites, in particular for
the coming graduates. Unequal opportunities is one reason why
we're having people in the street," Jasim Husain of Wefaq, the
main Shi'ite opposition group, said.
"The Ministry of Interior has been slow in creating jobs, in
particular for Shi'ites."
There is no official figure of how many are employed by
Bahrain's armed forces and its police and security forces.
Officials at the Ministry of Interior declined to comment but
said details of the plans would be released later this week.
Bahrain has granted citizenship to Sunni foreigners serving
in its armed forces, limiting the number of secure government
jobs its Shi'ite population can potentially access.
The practice has long been a bone of contention for the
opposition who see it as an attempt to alter the sectarian
balance, an accusation the government denies.
The government says all naturalisation is done in full
transparency and in accordance with Bahrain's immigration
polices. Bahrain's king said last year the government would
start to limit the practice.
Clashes erupted last week between residents in Hamad Town,
an area where both Shi'ites and Sunni live, including foreigners
who were granted citizenship.
It was not clear what sparked the clashes that were
contained by police forces, but residents said that Syrians were
involved in the fighting with metal sticks and batons.
Husain said the new jobs could potentially be funded by the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that is currently discussing a
joint fund to back Bahrain and Oman, which also has seen unrest.
Bahrain's opposition groups, including Wefaq, demand the
resignation of the government and a new constitutional monarchy.
Currently, parliament has little powers, cabinet is appointed by
the king and most ministers are from the ruling family.
But many of the thousands in Bahrain's youth movement who
are occupying Manama's Pearl Square and staging daily protests
want the complete ouster of the ruling family.
Hundreds staged an hours-long sit-in on Sunday outside the
palace in Manama that serves as an office to Prime Minister
Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the world's
longest serving head of government.
(Reporting by Frederik Richter; editing by Andrew Hammond
and Michael Roddy)