Bahrain's Al-Wefaq: Terror allegations unfounded, hurting country
Bahraini government allegations against a group of its Shiite citizens, accused of conspiring to overthrow the regime, have been described as unjustified by the secretary general of al-Wefaq, the largest Islamic Shiite opposition grouping, dpa reported.
"The group accused of attempting to overthrow the government can not overthrow the board of a charity society if they wanted to by the means they were using, let alone a regime," Sheikh Ali Salman said during a press conference Wednesday at the society headquarters.
Since the start of the clampdown on August 13, Bahraini authorities according to al-Wefaq have detained 256 people, among them 23 leading Shiite opposition figures who were identified by the government as key ringleaders of the alleged terrorist group. Two others in London were cited.
Earlier this month, the public prosecution office said that some of those detained had confessed.
Earlier in the day, Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa, told the London-based Arabic daily newspaper al-Hayat that the recent acts of sabotage witnessed by his country were a rehearsal for similar acts to be carried out by similar groups in neighbouring Gulf states.
"They received training abroad, and they received money from abroad," he told al-Hayat, adding that the group "acknowledged receiving the assistance of several parties in the region."
Shaikh Khalid refused to accuse Iran of involvement, adding that Bahraini-Iranian relations were strong, as they have always been.
Sheikh Salman, however, believes that the lack of an "Iranian link" accusation - in the historical context of earlier allegations laid against Bahraini Shiite opposition in the 1980s and 1990s - only strengthens the opposition conviction that the allegations had been exaggerated.
"The security crackdown and what has accompanied it from restrictions on freedoms have tarnished the reputation the country, gained over the past 10 years for being a model for democratic reforms," Sheikh Salman said, adding that the image created abroad and among locals who subscribe to the government theory is that Bahrain is unstable and unsafe.
"Today businesses are more afraid to embark on investments here than they were when the tire burnings protests were taking place."
Sheikh Salman accused unnamed hardliners in the government of pushing a confrontational, security-based agenda without regard for Bahrain's larger national interests.
He accused them of carrying out a misleading media campaign, blocking websites and targeting political and civil-rights activists in an effort to reverse the reforms introduced by Bahrain's king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, shortly after his rise to power in 1999.
"The violations that have caused an international outcry from rights groups are not things Bahrain king would tolerate or allow if he knew they were being carried out," Sheikh Salman said.
"When some local newspapers manipulated the concerns expressed by the US States Department spokesman last week, to make it sound as if it was a message of support for the ongoing crackdown, it discredited those pushing this agenda."
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters on September 15 that the US government had been in touch with the Bahraini government regarding the on-going crackdown to express concern.
"At the same time, we have confidence as Bahrain evolves that you don't have to make a choice between security and democracy, and that this is the message that we're sending to the government," Crowley said.
Two days later, some local papers carried a story quoting Crowley saying that "the United States has full confidence that Bahrain was developing in areas of progress, security and democracy."
Sheikh Salman called on both the authorities and the protesters to halt the escalation to allow for a chance for dialogue.
"The government, the people and the country stand to loose if the security solution prevails. Both sides need to show good faith and take advantage of the proposals put forward to de-escalate," he said.