Last updated: 14 October, 2012

Bahrain’s king urges talks and to make violence a crime

Bahrain’s King Hamad said at the opening of parliament on Sunday that the government was open to dialogue with the opposition and also urged the body to criminalise “violence.”

“The door to talks remains open to everybody,” he said in a speech to MPs, while also warning the opposition against resorting to violence for political aims.

“Demands cannot be met through the use of force and violence but through dialogue and national understanding,” he said of near daily anti-government protests by Shiites in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom.

The Shiite-led opposition in Bahrain wants a constitutional monarchy.

“We reject a grave escalation on the streets,” the king stressed, regretting that “democracy is being exploited so demands can be met through the use of violence and terrorism.”

He asked both chambers of parliament to consider “promulgating the necessary legislation to criminalise everything that harms our unity and the security of the population.”

Earlier on Sunday, the main Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq in a statement lamented what it called “the absence of credibility” in statements by those in power on their openness to “dialogue.”

It issued the statement after its leader, cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, was called in by police for questioning over over remarks the authorities said related to “sectarian and security” matters.

Criminal investigation police questioned him in the presence of two lawyers over statements he made during a visit to Egypt earlier this month, according to a statement carried by the BNA state news agency.

Al-Wefaq dominated elections twice in 2006 and 2010 in Shiite areas of the Sunni-ruled kingdom, and formed the largest single bloc in both parliaments.

But its MPs resigned in protest over violence used by security forces against Shiite-dominated protests that broke out in mid-February 2011 and came under a deadly crackdown a month later.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, a total of 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since the violence began on February 14, 2011.