Bahrain insists open to dialogue with opposition

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The Bahraini government insisted on Friday it remains open to dialogue with the opposition, in line with a call by the US president that was praised by the kingdom's main Shiite opposition group.

The government also rejected "false accusations," in apparent reference to reports of abuse during and after a pro-reform protest movement in the kingdom between mid-February and mid-March.

In his Thursday remarks, Barack Obama criticised the use of "mass arrests and brute force" in the Shiite-majority Gulf state, which is ruled by a Sunni dynasty.

The Bahraini government said "the door for dialogue has been open in the Kingdom of Bahrain since the launch of a National Action Charter and will remain so."

"It hopes that the dialogue witnesses the participation of all to achieve a national consensus through constitutional means," a statement added.

Obama said the only way out of the political impasse in Bahrain was dialogue, after the Shiite-led street protests demanding reforms ended with a heavy-handed crackdown and sweeping arrests.

"The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail," Obama said.

"We have insisted publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens," he said.

Bahrain, without directly referring to Obama, criticised what it said were "false accusations."

"The Kingdom of Bahrain ... has responded to the false accusations and wrong information on all occasions," the government said.

However, it said it welcomed the principles aired in Obama's speech, saying they "included visions and principles that fall in line with the democratic strategy adopted by Bahrain."

Al-Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group, said it welcomed Obama's speech, and supports "his call for a real and meaningful dialogue between the Bahraini authority and the opposition."

A statement praised Obama's criticism of repression of dissent by Bahraini authorities, but called for him to back up his words with action.

"We will also watch carefully how the US will contribute to the transformation process, and are hoping the president continues to speak out when he sees repression by US allies," it said.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Bahraini Crown Prince Salman to carry out reforms.

"The prime minister raised concerns about the situation in Bahrain and stressed the importance of the government moving to a policy of reform rather than repression," a statement from Cameron's office said.

Bahraini authorities have said 24 people, mostly demonstrators, were killed in the month-long unrest.

Rights groups and the opposition have said that the arrest of activists continued after security forces crushed the protest movement in March, and have criticised the trials of activists as unfair.

Sweden, meanwhile, said one of the Shiites sentenced Thursday for the kidnapping of a policeman has dual Bahraini-Swedish nationality and it wanted access to him.

"We are trying to have access to him; it's the normal routine when a Swedish citizen is jailed abroad ... we want to meet him, to see how he is and to hear his comments," said foreign ministry spokesman Anders Joerle.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said his country was facing "the usual difficulties when someone has a dual nationality and one of the countries does not recognise it."

"But we, we do and we are working intensively on the issue," he was quoted as saying by Swedish news agency TT.

© 2011 AFP

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