Hillary urges restraint, reform in Bahrain
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Last Updated: Monday, February 21, 2011, 09:51
  
Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged restraint in Bahrain on Sunday, blasting as unacceptable any violence by the Gulf kingdom's security forces and calling for immediate political reform.

During a call to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal about the wave of protests gripping the Middle East and North Africa, Hillary "underscored the necessity of restraint by the security forces in Bahrain”, the State Department said in statement.

The tiny, oil-rich ally, which has Sunni rulers governing over a restive Shi’ite majority near Shi’ite but non-Arab Iran, also houses the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet.

It is adjacent to an oil-producing province in Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia where Shi'ites have also complained of unfair leadership.

The pro-Western and strategically vital Gulf kingdom is also under growing pressure to launch extensive talks with the Shi’ite-led opposition, amid rising sectarian tensions in the wake of bloody anti-regime protests.

"Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible," Hillary told ABC's 'This Week' program earlier Sunday.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, meanwhile, called on Middle Eastern allies to "get ahead of reform" and proactively lead their societies to democratic change rather than be forced into it by violent revolt.

"What we're seeing across the region is a yearning for change, a hunger for political reform, economic reform, greater representation, and we support that," she told NBC's 'Meet the Press'.

"The message is the same: no violence, respect the universal rights of people to assemble, to protest, to speak, to form political organisations. And get ahead of reform (and) recognise that there needs to be lasting political change."

Hillary, meanwhile, welcomed an offer by Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to open a "meaningful dialogue with the full spectrum of Bahrain society”, according to her office.

And she expressed hope for international support backing the initiative "as a constructive path to preserve Bahrain's stability and help meet the aspirations of all of Bahrain's people."

In her ABC television interview, Hillary insisted President Barack Obama's administration was not interfering in the kingdom's internal affairs, stressing that Washington "cannot tell countries what they are going to do" and "cannot dictate the outcomes”.

And yet she firmly stated that violence against anti-regime protesters "is absolutely unacceptable”.

"We very much want to see the human rights of the people protected, including right to assemble, right to express themselves, and we want to see reform," she added.

Obama's National Security Adviser Tom Donilon spoke by telephone with the crown prince on Saturday, urging him to respect human rights and launch "meaningful" reform, the White House said.

An early Thursday morning raid left four people dead and was followed by the Army deploying in the capital Manama's Pearl Square, focal point of the protests.

Protesters have since flocked back after Crown Prince Salman, deputy commander of the armed forces, ordered both police and troops to withdraw.

The wave of unrest spreading across the region is testing the underpinnings of US policy, which for decades has seen Washington side with rulers who kept a lid on dissent but provided relative geopolitical stability.

Bureau Report


First Published: Monday, February 21, 2011, 09:51


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