WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bahrain’s ruling royal family has embarked on a constructive path to open political dialogue after violent protests, but must ensure its words are matched with deeds, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.
Clinton praised Bahrain’s king and crown prince for releasing political prisoners, permitting peaceful demonstrations and offering talks with opposition groups after the protests by majority Shi’ite Muslims against the U.S.-backed Sunni monarchy.
“These steps will need to be followed by concrete actions and reforms,” Clinton told reporters after a meeting with the visiting foreign minister of Latvia.
“We urge all parties to work quickly so that a national dialogue can produce meaningful measures that respond to the legitimate aspirations of all the people of Bahrain,” Clinton said, warning Bahrain’s government that “there is no place for violence against peaceful protesters.”
A total of seven people have been killed and hundreds wounded in Bahrain’s worst unrest since the 1990s, inspired in part by revolts that toppled the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia and have shaken leaders across the Arab world.
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.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has asked his son to lead a national dialogue over the next steps as thousands of Shi’ites continued to protest peacefully, demanding reforms in a country they say has discriminated against them for decades.
Clinton also commended early steps toward political reform in both Egypt and Tunisia, and said Libya must end its violent crackdown against protesters seeking to end Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.
“Across the Middle East people are calling on their governments to be more open, more accountable and more responsive,” Clinton said.
“Without genuine progress toward open and accountable political systems the gap between people and their governments can only grow and instability can only deepen.”
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Quinn; editing by Christopher Wilson