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Wed 6 Feb 2008 11:02 AM

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Bahrain accused of population cover-up

Leading MP accuses gov't of hiding kingdom's soaring population for political reasons.

A leading Bahraini MP on Tuesday accused the government of secretly nationalising expatriates and covering up the kingdom's soaring population for political reasons.

Bahrain's population is made up of majority Shi'ite Muslims, but the kingdom is ruled by a Sunni dynasty. The government has been accused in the past of naturalising Sunni Muslims in an effort to change the demography.

Sheikh Ali Salman, chairman of the Al Wefaq parliamentary bloc, called for the sacking of Cabinet Affairs Minister Sheikh Ahmed bin Ateyetala, accusing him of either failing to keep track of population growth or hiding the figures because of the high number of naturalised expatriates, reported Bahrain's Gulf Daily News.

In a written response to a parliamentary question by Sheikh Salman, Sheikh Ahmed, also responsible for the Central Informatics Organisation (CIO), revealed Bahrain’s population to be 1,046,814, of which 529,446 are nationals.

"The cabinet affairs minister has stunned us all, as we thought that the population was just 750,000," Sheikh Salman said in parliament, quoted the newspaper.

The MP said Bahrain's local population should be 447,531 today, given the population's annual growth rate of 2.7%. "We are shocked to see it at 529,446," he said.

"This shows that the increase, which happened suddenly in the last years, is the result of criminal political naturalisation," he added.

"Has this important information been hidden to bury the naturalisation crime this country has seen?"

Sheikh Salman said that naturalisation had robbed Bahrainis of at least 10,000 jobs.

“This means 10,000 poor Bahrainis have been robbed of their source of income and 10,000 houses will be given to undeserving people, while Bahrainis waiting from 1992 are forced to wait,” he added.

Sheikh Salman said the population growth had also impacted the quality of education and healthcare in the kingdom, increasing the average number of students in classrooms and how long people had to wait for hospital appointments.

Responding to the accusations, Sheikh Ahmed said the expanding local population was due to a rise in the birth rate, which stood at 3.6% and not 2.7%.

He said the growth in the expatriate population stood at 8.8% and that the high number of foreign workers were needed for the kingdom's economic development.

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