Shiite Bahrainis plan to boycott upcoming legislative polls

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In Bahrain on Friday, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the Shiite village of Diraz pledging to boycott Saturday’s legislative polls, with police firing tear gas to disperse them. Duration: 01:03

Shiite Bahrainis plan to boycott upcoming legislative polls

Bahrain opposition urges end to power ‘monopoly’

/ Manama (Bahrain) – 21 November 2014 15:01 – AFP (Taieb Mahjoub ) – LEAD

Bahrain’s Shiite opposition warned Friday ahead of elections that failure by the kingdom’s Sunni rulers to loosen their grip on power could trigger a surge in violence.

The government of the key US ally said that it was ready for a dialogue with the opposition, which is boycotting Saturday’s legislative and municipal polls.

“The door to dialogue will never be shut, including with Al-Wefaq,” Information Minister Samira Rajab said in an interview with AFP, referring to the main Shiite opposition movement.

Nearly four years ago, the Shiite opposition led a month-long uprising calling for democratic reforms, but the protest movement was crushed by the authorities.

On Friday, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the Shiite village of Diraz pledging to boycott Saturday’s polls, with police firing tear gas to disperse them, witnesses said.

Shiite demonstrators frequently clash with security forces in villages outside the capital Manama and hundreds have been arrested and faced trial after the uprising.

The political rivals have struggled to bury their differences through a so-called “national dialogue” that fell apart despite several rounds of negotiations.

Al-Wefaq chief Sheikh Ali Salman told AFP on Friday that the opposition could resume talks with the government if it agreed to implement reforms in line with a strict timetable.

“This has been our strategy in the past, it is our strategy today and will be our strategy tomorrow… in order to reach a consensus that would end the ruling family’s monopoly of all power,” he said.

Boycotting Saturday’s elections reflects “the people’s demand for democratic reforms,” and for securing a political partnership with the authorities, he said.

Salman warned that failure to reach that a political accord could spark an “explosion” of violence in Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a partner in the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group.

“A huge terrorist threat hangs over all the countries (of the region) and unfortunately everything is possible… as long as the regime and the opposition do not reach a political agreement,” he said.

– Constitutional monarchy –

The opposition wants a “real” constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister independent from the ruling Al-Khalifa royal family.

But the Saudi-backed Sunni dynasty which rules over the majority Shiite kingdom has rejected the demand.

Al-Wefaq was in October banned by a Bahraini court from carrying out any activities for three months for violating the law on associations.

The movement engaged in several rounds of talks with the authorities but refused to resume discussions in September despite a new proposal announced by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

The proposal had five core elements, including the redefinition of electoral districts and permission for parliament to question the premier and his ministers.

The security forces, blamed for the deaths of dozens of protesters, would also be bound by new codes of conduct.

At the time Al-Wefaq chief Salman said the proposal “ignores the legitimate demands of the people”.

On Friday he said he did not expect the opposition to reach an agreement with the government.

The past three years, he said, “have shown that the regime rejects democracy”.

Rajab insisted that Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, would not tolerate “chaos”.

“Violence is not allowed. It is tantamount to terrorism.”

She also denounced “foreign interference”, saying it fanned tensions and stood in the way of an agreement between the Bahraini opposition and the government.

Rajab pointed to Tehran and said “Iran is a neighbour which whom we wish to have good relations”.

Bahrain has repeatedly accused Iran, which lies just across the Gulf, of backing the Shiite opposition.

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Tags : polls, Legislative, upcoming, boycott, plan, Bahrainis, shiite

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