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Bahrain king "forgives" some protesters, calls for unity after "painful" months

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa forgives some protesters and says those mistreated by security forces are eligible for compensation.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has "forgiven" some of those charged with crimes during the recent wave of protests.

Those mistreated by security forces are eligible for compensation, the monarch said on Sunday.

He spoke of "shunning violence" and focusing on reconciliation to unify the country after a "painful" few months.

"We must not swerve from our trust and faith in our common future, regardless of the diversity of our sects," he said.

"There are those who were charged with abusing us and senior officials in Bahrain. We today announce that we forgive them. We hope they understand that abusing us and others in fact offends everyone and achieves nothing."

Despite the conciliatory tone of the speech, King Hamad did not announce any major concessions towards an opposition movement still demanding significant political and constitutional reforms.

More than 30 people have been killed, hundreds arrested and thousands dismissed from their jobs since anti-government protests began in mid-February.

In recent weeks, however, scores of prisoners have been released and some of those fired have been told they can return to their jobs.

Still six months on, some activists say they cannot reconcile with authorities while prisoners remain in detention and police use force against demonstrators in predominantly Shiite neighbourhoods.

Khalil Marzooq, a member of the country's main opposition group, Al Wefaq, said King Hamad's speech did not go far enough in addressing the crisis still facing the country.

"The political crisis in Bahrain is very big and requires serious addressing, especially from the king," he said. "The situation in Bahrain needs a wide spectrum of changes ... From the political side, [the speech] had nothing new."

However, Mahmood al Mahmood, an independent member of Bahrain's parliament, said he was encouraged by the king's speech.

"I think the speech came at the right time where we are approaching a crossroads," he said. "His Majesty clearly and rightly pointed out that we should live together as brothers and sisters, not facing each other and accusing each other.

"Should any problem occur, we should go to the courts, rather than going to the streets," he said.

In the address to mark the end of Ramadan, King Hamad also touched on allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners, saying that "this is not tolerated ... and we do not condone it", and also alluded to the return of hundreds of dismissed workers to their jobs.

However, members of the opposition say that public assurances, including that those fired for links to the protest movement should return to their jobs, are not necessarily being implemented.

King Hamad's speech also came as authorities announced that about 400 expelled university students were allowed to return to their courses when the academic year begins next month.

"When we see workers at their places of work and students at their learning institutions, while some other workers are not working and some other students are not studying, we are prompted to look into their situation to help them join their colleagues and classmates," King Hamad said. "These are our orders to the concerned institutions and they should implement them more quickly."

However, one expelled student in her early 20s who would only be identified by her first name Zahraa, has not yet been informed that she can return to her university. She was among the hundreds of mostly Shiite students kicked out of university earlier this year - punishment, they say, for involvement in anti-government protests.

"Sure, they said that, but I haven't received anything official to say that we are reinstated," she said yesterday. "Also, they actually didn't say that we are innocent, just that we have been punished enough."

Zahraa, like other students caught up in the crisis, denies that she did anything to justify expelling her from her course.

"We don't understand why we were punished in the first place," she said. "If I have another opportunity in another place, I won't go back to my university. They said this is sufficient punishment, but I didn't do anything wrong. I can't count on just words."



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