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Friday, December 29, 2006

Newly-powerful Shi'ite opposition disrupts Bahrain parliament

ABU DHABI — Bahrain's large Shi'ite opposition has been making its power felt within parliament.

The Shi'ites, who have won nearly half of the 40-seat parliamentarian, have boycotted the opening session. The Al Wefaq Islamic Society, a 17-member Shi'ite bloc led by an Iranian-trained cleric, said the boycott was in protest of an alleged government attempt to manipulate parliament and the Cabinet.

Al Wefaq has sought senior posts in parliament and the Cabinet. King Hamad, who was to have addressed parliament on Dec. 15, has appointed a Shi'ite, Nizar Al Baharana, as minister of state for foreign affairs, Middle East Newsline reported. But the Shi'ite opposition said it was not satisfied.

"Al Baharna was appointed based on talks between him and the government and we were not consulted about this political message, so it does not concern us," Al Wefaq chairman Ali Salman said.

Sunni parliamentarians have given Al Wefaq three days to return to parliament. The constitution requires a full parliament session to decide on the chair and two deputies of the National Assembly.

"We could have easily got inside parliament and held the vote, but members of parliament took a noble stand against such a move, saying that Al Wefaq should be given a chance to attend," outgoing parliamentary speaker Khalifa Al Dhahrani said. "Al Wefaq has until 9.30 a.m. Tuesday to attend because that will be parliament's first session, when posts will be decided regardless."

The boycott by Al Wefaq was said to reflect the increasing power of the Shi'ite opposition. The parliamentary bloc, whose members have called for the expulsion of the U.S. military from Bahrain, has been accused of receiving Iranian support and financing.

"Although we are appreciative of Al Wefaq's participation, we didn't like what has happened today," Al Dhahrani told a news conference on Dec. 15. "I hope that this doesn't happen again, because it threatens the unity of not just this establishment, but the whole country."

Al Wefaq has sought to chair at least two of the five council committees. The opposition has also warned the king not to undermine the National Assembly by transferring authority to the non-elected Shura Council.

"We have won 62 percent of the total votes while the 22 pro-government deputies had only 38 percent," Salman said. "We should have a greater say in the major political issues in Bahrain."

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