Bahrain authorities fear split along religious lines

1st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Bahrain authorities fear that a popular uprising could split the country along religious lines, Social Development Minister Fatima Al Balooshi said Tuesday.

"Bahrain has always been a multicultural nation. We've been living side by side together all these years," she told journalists, after addressing the UN Human Rights Council.

"We are really afraid of splitting the country," said the minister.

Protesters in the Shiite-majority kingdom which is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty have been calling for the fall of the regime.

But on Tuesday, Sunnis and Shiites demonstrators marched alongside, with cleric Sheikh Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad saying that the march was to "stress the unity between Shiites and Sunnis in Bahrain."

Al Balooshi said that the only likely way out of the current tension was dialogue, but she noted that talks have been rejected by the opposition.

"The dialogue started with them but a group of protesters don't want it. These protestors do not represent all the people in Bahrain," she stressed.

"We are trying to convince the protesters to sit at the table and start a dialogue," she added.

King Hamad bin Issa has entrusted his heir, Sheikh Salman with opening a wide-reaching dialogue with the opposition, an offer that is seen too late by hard core protesters.

The monarch had kick-started reforms with a referendum in 2001 that led to reviving the parliament in 2002, after it had been scrapped in 1975. But the legislature remains crippled by the authorities of the all-appointed upper chamber, and the king.

© 2011 AFP

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