May 1, 2019 / 11:40 AM / a month ago

Bahrain responds frostily to French call for dialogue with opposition

PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain’s foreign minister gave a frosty response on Wednesday after French President Emmanuel Macron urged the Gulf Arab state to resume political dialogue with the opposition.

Bahrain’s ruling Sunni Al Khalifa family has kept a lid on dissent since the Shi’ite opposition staged a failed uprising in 2011 in the country, base of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The state has ruled out any dialogue after reconciliation talks collapsed in 2014 and accused the opposition of working with arch enemy Iran.

Macron, after a meeting with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Paris, “encouraged the Bahraini authorities to continue their efforts to re-establish a political dialogue that includes all components of Bahraini society”, said a presidency statement issued on Tuesday.

“He stressed that the guarantee of rights was inseparable from stability,” it added.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said on Wednesday that no such dialogue took place, posting on Twitter that Macron “did not raise any subject related to a political dialogue.”.

He said the Gulf Arab state had legislative institutions through which political dialogue continuously takes place and said Macron praised King Hamad’s policies of “reforms and openness and encouraged to continue on that approach”.

A French presidential source, responding to a Reuters’ request for comment on the Twitter post, said the French government had contacts with Bahraini authorities on Wednesday on various subjects including “inclusive political dialogue”.

Since the 2011 protests, quashed with the help of Saudi forces, Bahrain has prosecuted hundreds of activists in mass trials and banned the main opposition groups. Most of the country’s leading opposition figures and rights activists are imprisoned or have fled abroad.

The government denies using repressive methods against the opposition and says it is protecting national security.

Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Marine Pennetier in Paris; editing by John Stonestreet

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