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Fri 15 Apr 2011 05:24 PM

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Bahrain minister says will not disband opposition groups

Foreign minister posts Twitter message to clarify comments by ministry of justice and islamic affairs

Bahrain minister says will not disband opposition groups
Bahraini women queue behind a huge portrait of Islamic National Accord Association (Al-Wefaq) leader Sheikh Ali Salman. (Getty Images)

Bahrain's foreign minister said

on Friday the Gulf Arab state was not trying to dissolve the

biggest opposition party, in comments that came after the United

States criticised legal action against the group, Wefaq.

Bahrain's Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs said on

Thursday it would dissolve Wefaq and another group in Bahrain's

toughest crackdown yet on Shi'ite dissidents who led an uprising

to demand more say in the Sunni-ruled monarchy.

"A clarification: Bahrain is not seeking to dissolve

political societies, official statement was incorrect," Sheikh

Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa wrote in a Twitter message.

"It's a court case against violations committed by the

societies... In accordance with the constitution, elections will

be held to fill seats vacated by Wefaq. All societies, including

Wefaq, are encouraged to participate in elections and serve the

people through parliament," he said.

The minister did not elaborate but his comment appeared to

contradict justice ministry statements accusing Wefaq, which won

18 seats in elections for the 40-seat parliament last year, and

the Islamic Action group, of trying to bring down the

constitutional order and taking instructions from religious


The ministry said courts were expected to give a decision on

the parties within one month and they would be dissolved

immediately if the government's petition were upheld.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Thursday

that Washington was concerned by the move to disband Wefaq and

urged the authorities to reverse the decision.

The government is led by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family,

which has good relations with the United States. Bahrain hosts

the US Fifth Fleet.

Last month the government crushed weeks of protests led

mainly by Shi'ites, deploying security forces throughout the

capital and calling in troops from Sunni-led Gulf neighbours

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran has called on the UN Security Council to protect

opposition activists in Bahrain, saying unrest and suppression

could destabilise the entire region, the official IRNA news

agency said on Friday.

Tehran has been outspoken in its criticism of the Bahraini

Sunni Muslim ruling family's suppression of protests by members

of the Shi'ite majority. Bahrain's Gulf Arab allies -- some of

which sent troops to the island state to bolster government

forces -- have accused the Islamic Republic of interference.