x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Bahrain king dismisses opposition as disunited

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa dismissed the country's opposition movement as disunited and said the threat of Iran had compelled him to call in foreign troops to halt last year's protests.

MANAMA // Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa dismissed the country's opposition movement as disunited and said the threat of Iran had compelled him to call in foreign troops to halt last year's protests.

"In a sense there is no 'opposition' in Bahrain, as the phrase implies one unified block with the same views," the king said in extracts from an interview with Der Spiegel.

"Such a phrase is not in our constitution, unlike say the United Kingdom. We only have people with different views and that's OK," he said in the article to be published today.

Bahrainis took to the streets in February last year, inspired by the Arab Spring, and the government imposed martial law, stamping out the demonstrations the following month.

Demonstrations began again after emergency law was lifted in June and are escalating before the anniversary of the protests.

Mainly Shiite opposition parties are demanding Bahrain's elected parliament have the power to form governments. Shiites complain of political and economic marginalisation by an entrenched elite who do not want to share power. The government denies this and says it is open to reforms.

Washington says the government should enter a new dialogue with the opposition.

The king said he brought in emergency law to protect women and expatriates. "Also our women were very scared and it is the duty of a gentleman to protect women, so I had to protect them," he said.

Thirty-five people died by the time martial law ended, including protesters, police, Shiite detainees and foreigners.

The king told Der Spiegel he had called in Gulf Cooperation Council military help, mainly Saudi troops, to protect Bahrain's "strategic installations ... in case Iran would be more aggressive".

The government instituted reforms giving the elected chamber more powers of scrutiny over ministers and budgets.