DUBAI (Reuters) - Gulf Arab countries want Britain to deport two opposition figures accused by Bahrain over an alleged coup attempt and could make a formal request to London soon, Gulf Arab media reported on Wednesday.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, on Saturday accused more than 20 Shi’ite opposition leaders arrested in a broad crackdown of plotting to overthrow the Sunni monarchy by promoting violent protests and acts of sabotage.
Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, meeting in Saudi Arabia on Monday praised Bahrain over the arrests and called on Britain to banish two based in London, Hassan al-Musheimea and Saeed al-Shihabi.
“All countries of the world, and specifically the United Kingdom, should deal seriously with these terrorist elements and individuals supporting terrorism and deport them from their territory,” a statement published on state news agencies on Tuesday and in newspapers on Wednesday said.
The statement stopped short of saying the men should be extradited to Bahrain, an island state seen as a close ally of Saudi Arabia and Western countries.
But Bahrain’s Foreign Minister told Bahrain state television on Tuesday that GCC ambassadors in London would seek a meeting with the British foreign secretary to ask for extradition, the Dubai-based Gulf News reported on Wednesday.
Shihabi and Musheimea said at a news conference in London on Tuesday that the detainees -- who Bahrain said on Tuesday would face 12 charges concerning an attempt to overthrow “the political system of the state by force” -- had been tortured.
Eric Lubbock, vice-chairman of a parliamentary human rights group, said at the conference that the United Nations should take part in an urgent investigation into the torture claims.
“Bahrain should stop threatening local rights defenders who have criticised the alleged torture of prominent opposition activists,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said this week.
Regular night-time clashes between security forces and young Shi’ite protesters burning tyres and throwing petrol bombs have worsened in recent months in Bahrain, also a regional offshore banking hub.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said in a televised speech on Sunday the arrests aimed to put an end to the civil unrest.
Diplomats and analysts say the crackdown is an effort to break opposition ranks ahead of parliamentary polls in October where Shi’ites, who are the majority in the kingdom, could make more gains and press for further democratic reforms.
Bahrain and Kuwait have the only elected parliaments in the Gulf Arab region, but bills need approval by an upper house whose members are appointed by the king.
Shi’ites say they are excluded from job opportunities and access to housing and accuse the government of granting some Sunnis from outside the country citizenship to change the demographic balance. Manama denies this.
Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Nicolas Parasie and Elizabeth Fullerton
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