Iran ‘backing street violence in Bahrain’
Manama, March 25, 2013
Bahrain's political, religious and community leaders are being urged to condemn violence on the streets, with the UK citing increasing evidence that those behind it were receiving support from Iran.
British Ambassador to Bahrain Iain Lindsay labelled those behind a spate of bombings as "terrorists" and called on all groups to denounce such acts in an exclusive interview with our sister publication, the Gulf Daily News.
He said the ongoing National Dialogue was the only way to end a political stalemate that stretches back more than two years, but added the UK was concerned about Iranian support for those engaged in acts of violence.
"The British government has said publicly that we are concerned by the fact that we see increasing evidence of Iran moving from exploiting Bahrain's problems for propaganda purposes to providing support to people here who are bent on violence," he said.
Lindsay declined to elaborate on the evidence or the type of support Iran was providing, but said an inquiry by the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) into Britain's relations with Bahrain had been made aware.
"We condemn Iran's meddling here and indeed elsewhere and we firmly believe that Bahrain will make progress if Bahrain is given a chance and Bahrainis are given a chance themselves to resolve their problems," he said.
A National Dialogue that brings together four key factions to find solutions to Bahrain's current problems, which date back to anti-government protests in February 2011, has been underway for more than a month.
Critics have questioned the value of the process with participants struggling to even agree an agenda for the talks, but the ambassador said they should take comfort in the fact that the process had the support of the international community.
He added it was still "early days" and the UK had a similar experience as it sought to reach an agreement on Northern Ireland.
"We know from our own experience in the UK and Northern Ireland that this sort of process can take a long time," he said.
"This sort of process will have good days and bad days - it requires patience and leadership. From our own experience this is still early days. In Northern Ireland I think it took one year from the start of the all-party talks to them agreeing an agenda."
In fact, he said there was no alternative to dialogue - but added it had to be a Bahrain-only process. However, he acknowledged there were some in Bahrain who wanted that process to fail.
"There are people in the country who are opposed to dialogue, who see it as a sideshow or irrelevant," he said. "We disagree with that and I think the whole of the international community would disagree with that."
The National Dialogue is taking place against a backdrop of street violence, which has escalated to the planting of explosive devices. Lindsay described those planting the bombs as "terrorists".
"I think people who plant bombs which are aimed at indiscriminately killing people are terrorists, full stop," he said. "If you plant a bomb in a rubbish bin and you don't really care who is going to pick it up or who is going to be killed, that is by any international standards terrorism."
He also called on "all leaders" in the country to condemn the violence.
"The only way you are going to get out of Bahrain's political difficulties is through dialogue," said Lindsay.
"It's important for not only the international community to condemn the violence, but for all leaders in Bahrain - political, religious, community leaders - to condemn violence, to make clear that this has no part in Bahrain's future."
However, he also stressed the need for the police to exercise "maximum restraint" when responding to violence.
"We regret that when things flare up there have been deaths, which is a tragedy, and inevitably when there are deaths that leads to more violence," said Lindsay.
"But I would say that we have, in general, seen greater restraint. Certainly in the 18 months that I have been here, things have become more violent on the ground.
"We are seeing much more use of things like IEDs and improvised weapons, but I think the police response has become better. But incidents of unprofessional behaviour must be investigated."
He also welcomed the new role of His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is now First Deputy Premier as well as Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander.
"It's a good confidence building measure and it certainly gives us and I'm sure our international partners a sense of confidence in the Bahraini government going ahead," he said. "I think it should also give people in Bahrain a sense of confidence that he is now engaged in the government." – TradeArabia News Service