x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Bahrain's opposition leader Mashalma returns from exile

Opposition leader Hassan Mashalma was among 25 men who received a royal pardon this week after being charged with engaging in terrorism and forming an illegal organisation.

Bahraini Shiite opposition leader Hassan Mashalma (C) is greeted by party members upon his arrival at Bahrain International Airport.
Bahraini Shiite opposition leader Hassan Mashalma (C) is greeted by party members upon his arrival at Bahrain International Airport.

MANAMA // The opposition leader Hassan Mashaima returned to Bahrain from self-imposed exile yesterday, as thousands of protesters marched in the capital Manama.

"The time has come for true unity and our priority today is for the opposition to sit down with the protesters at the Pearl Roundabout and clearly set our demands," Mr Mashaima, who had been in Britain, told reporters at his home.

The Shiite leader was among 25 men in Bahrain who had been charged in October with forming an illegal organisation, engaging in and financing terrorism, and spreading false and misleading information.

Mr Mashaima was in Britain for medical treatment when the charges were pressed last year. He had remained there until the group was granted a royal pardon this week.

Lebanese authorities arrested Mr Mashaima on Tuesday because of an outstanding arrest warrant against him by Interpol before releasing him on Friday after confirmation of his pardon.

King Hamad's pardon came amid daily protests mainly by Bahrain's majority Shiite community, which complains of discrimination.

Manama's Pearl Roundabout, which has become the centre of protests that began on February 14, has been transformed into a makeshift camp where protesters have kept daily vigil in hundreds of tents.

Thousands of protesters massed at the square yesterday and then marched out along a major motorway.

They marched up to the the walled compound where the foreign ministry is located, stopping outside the building.

Then the massive flag-waving crowd proceeded up the street, which is flanked by towering buildings housing banks.

The demonstration eventually wound its way back to the roundabout, ending where it began.

Official opposition groups have stopped short of demanding outright regime change, instead calling for major reforms, including an elected prime minister.

Seven people have been killed by security forces since the beginning of the protests.

Bahraini opposition MPs said yesterday they were still awaiting details on a proposed dialogue with the government before agreeing to the talks.

"Until now the government did not give any [specific] initiative for political reform," said Mattar Mattar, one of 18 Shiite MPs who withdrew from parliament in protest at the killings last week.

"Our target was declared very clearly: we want an elected government, and we want the people to write their constitution themselves through an elected council," Mr Mattar, a member of the Al Wefaq opposition bloc, said.

"One of the most important preconditions... is that the government needs to resign first," added another Al Wefaq MP, Ali al Aswad.

King Hamad has charged Crown Prince Salman with opening dialogue with all factions in the Gulf kingdom but the talks have yet to be launched.

* Agence Presse-France