x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Bahrain opposition boycotts talks with government

Opposition blames the slow pace of negotiations and a raid last week on a top Shiite leader's home.

DUBAI // Bahrain's main opposition group has suspended its participation in reconciliation talks with the government for two weeks, blaming the slow pace of negotiations and a raid last week on a top Shiite leader's home.

Little progress has been achieved in the talks, which began in February as part of efforts to end two years of political deadlock following pro-reform protests by majority Shiites in 2011 that were crushed by the Sunni-led government.

Bahrain's information affairs minister, Samira Rajab, said Al Wefaq's decision to boycott the talks showed the group was not serious about helping to overcome the problems that continued to divide the kingdom.

Al Wefaq cited a raid by security forces on the home of Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassim near the capital Manama last Friday and the deliberate "delay and absence of positive response" by government representatives at the talks as reasons for pulling out.

"Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, and in coordination with the national democratic opposition parties, declares it will temporarily stop attending the dialogue's preparation sessions for two weeks," the group said.

Ms Rajab said the talks were continuing with other opposition groups and Al Wefaq's decision was dictated by "foreign" forces to obstruct reconciliation efforts.

"Those who demand reforms should start with themselves and show serious intentions to reach reconciliation," she added.

Six opposition groups have been participating in the talks, alongside government officials and several pro-government associations.

Bahrain's chief of public security made no mention of the raid on Sheikh Qassim's home but said police in the area early on the day it took place had come under fire from a "locally made weapon", injuring two officers.

In response, "necessary measures were taken to reinforce the security force patrols with members of an anti-terrorism unit ... to uncover the source of the gunfire", Maj Gen Tariq Al Hassan told the state news agency, BNA.