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US Concerned Over Bahrain Banning All Protest Gatherings
203 days ago
(RTTNews) - The United States has expressed concerns over the recent ban on all protest gatherings in Bahrain, and urged the government in the Gulf Kingdom to allow freedom of peaceful assembly in line with its international commitments.
"The United States is deeply concerned by the Bahraini Government's decision to ban all public gatherings," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, noting that "freedoms of assembly, association, and expression are universal human rights."
Toner also urged the Bahraini government to uphold its international commitments and ensure that its citizens are able to exercise - are able to assemble peacefully and to express their views without fear of arrest or detention.
"We urge the Government of Bahrain to work with responsible protest leaders to find a way for peaceful and orderly demonstrations to take place. The decision to curb these rights is contrary to Bahrain's professed commitment to reform, and it will not help advance the national reconciliation nor build trust among all parties," he said.
The spokesman also urged the Bahraini Opposition to refrain from provocations and violence, stressing that violence undermines efforts to reduce tensions, rebuild trust, and pursue meaningful reconciliation in the Middle East nation.
"Recent violent attacks, including fatal attacks, on security force personnel are a deeply troubling development. So we urge the Government of Bahrain to take steps to build confidence across Bahraini society and to begin a meaningful national dialogue with the political Opposition," he added.
Toner's response came a day after Bahrain banned all protest gatherings and threatened legal action against groups encouraging demonstrations and clashes. The move is believed to be aimed at crushing the oil-rich Kingdom's anti-government uprising spearheaded by the majority Shia population, who have been complaining about discrimination by the ruling Sunni royal family.
While announcing the ban apparently targeting Al-Wefaq, the country's largest Shia political bloc, the Interior Ministry warned that any "illegal rally or gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for and participating in it." Notably, the Al-Wefaq had previously organized several Opposition marches that ended in clashes with security forces.
Separately, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid al-Khalifa said on Wednesday that "repeated abuse" of the rights to freedom of speech and expression could no longer be tolerated. He added that protests of any kind would be permitted only after sufficient levels of security and stability required to maintain national unity were achieved.
It is estimated that at least 60 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests broke out in Bahrain in February 2011 as a fallout of the 'Arab Spring' that saw the toppling of entrenched rulers in North Africa and the Middle East. The Bahraini government had suppressed last year's unrest with the help of troops from other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States.
Nevertheless, the country continues to witness frequent protests staged by the Opposition and Bahrain's Shia majority, who have long been complaining about discrimination in housing and government jobs. They have been demanding greater political rights and want the Sunni monarchy to hand over most of its powers to the elected Parliament.
Political turmoil in Bahrain has been of particular concern to the United States since the strategically located island in the Persian Gulf is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. The U.S. also fears that the Gulf Kingdom with its Shia-majority population could come under Iranian influence.
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