By Claire Ferris-Lay
Crowds lobby against investment in Gulf state after crackdown on protests
A business seminar aimed at pushing trade ties between the UK and Bahrain was mobbed by protestors in Manchester in a bid to deter investment in the Gulf state, local newspapers said.
Demonstrators chanted slogans and urged the Manchester Chamber of Commerce not to support Bahrain, which drew global criticism following a bloody crackdown on protestors earlier this year.
Representatives from Bahrain, which was forced to cut its forecasts for economic growth this year by two percentage points after widespread political unrest, spent four days in the UK last week in a bid to reinforce bilateral trade between the two countries.
Friday’s demonstration is not the first time British protestors have taken to the streets against Bahrain’s handling of its political unrest. In March, hundreds gathered outside the Bahrain embassy in London calling for the downfall of the Gulf state’s government.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Isa Al Khalifa, chief executive of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board, said during a speech in Manchester that the Gulf state was working towards “building a more democratic country”.
“The debate is about how fast to get there,” he said. “We just have to make sure that everyone is on board with the pace of reform. As the country become more democratic, it will also become more stable.”
Governments across the world are coming under increasing pressure to curb their trade ties with Bahrain following its crackdown on protestors at the beginning of the year.
The Gulf state in March imposed martial law and called in troops from its Gulf neighbours in a bid to quell weeks of unrest amid mass pro-reform demonstrations in which more than 30 people have died.
Five US democrats last week appealed to the Obama administration to postpone a $53m arms sale to Bahrain.
In a letter to the US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton the group warned the sale, which includes 300 missiles amongst other military equipment, would weaken US creditability, media reports said.
“The United States must make it clear to the government of Bahrain that its ongoing human rights violations and unwillingness to acknowledge legitimate demands for reform have a negative impact on its relationship with the United States,” the group said.
“In a country with a population of only 525,000, this represents a systematic effort to intimidate and punish those who promote democratic reform.”
The report, â€˜UK protestors picket Bahrainâ€™s trade eventâ€™ (16th Oct), distorts events in Manchester and overlooks the purpose of the Bahraini private sector and EDBsâ€™ delegation UK trade mission. The seminar in question saw less than a dozen people demonstrating outside, which hardly constitutes being â€œmobbed by protestorsâ€. While respecting the right of those who wish to protest, it is important to stress that such missions are an important part of the ongoing economic development efforts in Bahrain. Attracting further foreign investment will bring tangible benefits to all Bahrainis, primarily through job creation, a key focus in the coming years ahead.
The EDB attended many events in London, Birmingham and North West England during a weeklong trade mission without incident and the event in Manchester had a full attendance and was very well received.