Sun, Feb 27, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Bahraini Shiite dissident to fly home amid turmoil

Reuters, MANAMA

Hardline Shiite opposition leader Hassan Mushaimaa was due to fly home to Bahrain yesterday after Lebanese authorities returned his passport, a friend of his said.

“His passport has been given back to him and he’s bought a ticket. He will land in Bahrain at 3pm [11am GMT],” Abbas al-Amran said.

Mushaimaa, the London-based leader of the Shiite Haq movement, said on his Facebook page on Monday he would try to return to the Gulf Arab country after a week of unprecedented protests by majority Shiite Muslims against the US-backed Sunni monarchy.

He said he wanted to see if the island nation’s leadership was serious about dialogue or not.

However, he was stopped during a stopover in Beirut by Lebanese authorities, who said his name was on an international arrest warrant, and his passport was seized.

On Thursday Bahrain’s foreign minister said Mushaimaa, who was among 25 people charged over an alleged coup plot and who was being tried in absentia, had been pardoned and would return home to join a national dialogue.

Security forces killed seven people and wounded hundreds while trying to disperse protests last week before Bahrain, under pressure from its Western allies, pulled back its army and police and allowed peaceful demonstrations in Pearl Square.

Bahrain’s protesters want a constitutional monarchy instead of the existing system where citizens vote for a mostly toothless parliament and policy remains the preserve of a ruling elite centred on the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty.

Mushaimaa’s Haq party is more radical than the Shiite Wefaq party, from which it split in 2006 when Wefaq contested a parliamentary election. Haq’s leaders have often been arrested in recent years, only to receive royal pardons.

Meanwhile, the country’s Cabinet has been reshuffled in a further attempt to appease the Shiite opposition sources said yesterday.

The ministers of housing, health and Cabinet affairs were among those sacked, said three government officials who did not wish to be named, adding they had not received official confirmation yet of who was being replaced.

Shiites have long complained of discrimination in government services such as housing and health, and analysts in Bahrain say reshuffling these portfolios is another gesture to the Shiite opposition after the release of political prisoners.

One government source said Labor Minister Majeed al-Alawi, a former opposition activist, could become housing minister.

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nazar al-Baharna, one of the highest-ranking Shiite government officials, could be made minister of health, the source added.

The government denies there is any discrimination against Shiites in Bahrain and tens of thousands of government loyalists have also taken to the streets in recent days, saying that reforms launched by the king a decade ago resulted in freedoms and a level of democracy unique in the Gulf.

The sources also said that Sheikh Ahmed bin Attiatullah al-Khalifa, minister for Cabinet affairs, was likely to be replaced.

The Shiite opposition has linked him to an alleged government plan, leaked in 2006, to alter the sectarian balance of Bahrain. The government has denied there was such a plan.

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