Polling stations across Bahrain opened on Saturday for
parliamentary and municipal elections, although the main Shi'ite opposition
group is boycotting the vote.
A total of 419 candidates are running, 266 for
parliamentary seats and 153 in municipal council elections, but the elections
are not expected to resolve political turmoil in the kingdom, where the Sunni
Muslim al-Khalifa family rules over a population that is mostly Shi'ite Muslim.
Bahrain has been shaken by low-level unrest since Shi'ite
protesters took to the streets in February 2011 asking for greater democracy.
Reconciliation talks between the al-Khalifa family and
the opposition were revived early this year but later appeared to stall
following the prosecution of opposition officials on a variety of charges.
Al Wefaq, the main opposition in Bahrain, is boycotting
the elections along with three other groups.
Al Wefaq has said it will not take part in the poll
because parliament would not have enough power and because voting districts
favoured the kingdom's Sunni Muslims.
Despite the boycott, polling stations were busy in the
mostly Sunni Riffa district south of Manama, with long queues since the early
In the Shi'ite village of Sanabis to the west of Manama,
however, rocks and stones were scattered in the middle of the street in an
attempt to block traffic and prevent voters from reaching polling stations.
Al Wefaq, which has strong links to Bahrain's Shi'ite
majority, won 18 out of 40 parliamentary seats in a 2010 election, but it
pulled out of parliament a year later during a crackdown against mostly Shi'ite
Muslim protesters in the February 2011 demonstrations.
In late October, a court ruled in favour of suspending
the activities of al Wefaq for three months in a court case brought by the
government against the organisation in July, alleging that it had broken the
Bahrain, an ally of fellow Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia
and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, accuses Shi'ite Gulf power Iran of stirring
up unrest and says it has made many reforms since 2011. Iran denies those
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