WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama welcomed on Sunday a move by Bahrain’s government to reshuffle its cabinet and urged it to respect human rights.
“I welcome the announcement by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa about making important changes to the cabinet and restating his commitment to reform,” Obama said in a statement.
The king reshuffled the cabinet in a further attempt to appease the Shi’ite opposition that has staged days of protests against the Sunni-led government, government sources said.
The ministers of housing, health and cabinet affairs were among those sacked, said three government officials who did not wish to be named, adding they had not received official confirmation yet of who was being replaced.
Bahrain saw the worst unrest since the 1990s last week when seven people were killed in protests by its majority Shi’ites who have complained of discrimination by the government, which is a close ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of protesters still occupy Pearl Square in central Manama, demanding the resignation of the cabinet and a new constitution under which the government is elected.
Obama called Bahrain a “long-standing partner” but said the United States believes the country’s stability “will be enhanced by respecting the universal rights of the people of Bahrain and reforms that meet the aspirations of all Bahrainis.”
Bahrain is a small but strategically important U.S. ally that serves as headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in a region shadowed by fears of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The king’s son, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, has offered dialogue but has struggled to persuade the opposition that the government is serious about constitutional reforms.
Obama said the dialogue was an “opportunity for meaningful reform.”
Reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Philip Barbara