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Wednesday
Feb132013

Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Is There Any Hope in the "National Dialogue"?

A women's "Noise March" in Bahrain on Tuesday

See also Syria Live Coverage: Insurgents Take Another Airbase --- Next, a Major City?
Tuesday's Egypt (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Protesters Block Key Building for 3rd Day


1918 GMT: Bahrain. The Information Affairs' Authority --- deliberately or unwittingly --- has built on a pro-regime disinformation campaign to warn about "direct threats" by an opposition which it calls "terrorist gangs and saboteurs".

Opposition groups, including Al Wefaq, have called for Bahrainis to refrain from shopping, banking, and fuelling their cars. Pro-regime activists have used that to put out fake flyers, in the name of the opposition, threatening people if they do not join the boycott.

Now the IAA has put out the statement:

Some internet webpages and social media accounts in Bahrain circulated news about direct threats being sent by terrorist gangs and saboteurs to various individuals, groups, families, workers, shops and companies intended to compel citizens and residents to stay at home and refrain from going to work or business as usual on Thursday February, 14, 2013 in a desperate bid to forcibly impose a de facto public strike in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

1915 GMT: Bahrain. The Chief of Public Security, Major-General Tariq al Hasan --- without referring specifically to Thursday's second anniversary of the pro-democracy demonstrations --- has called on people to avoid protesting:

[The Chief of Public Security] commented upon the celebratory atmosphere surrounding the anniversary of the National Action Charter and the continuation of the National Consensus Dialogue.

The Chief indicated that while there may be a small minority of persons looking to disrupt the peaceful atmosphere, he called upon all citizens to resist temptation and to act responsibly.

He especially stressed the need for young men to resist the lure of troublemakers and refrain from joining in on any illegal activities.

To ensure peace and tranquility during this period, additional police resources have been deployed throughout the country. Those who engage in any type of illegal behavior will be dealt with swiftly, professionally and they will be held to account for their illegal activities in a court of law.

"Parents also have a responsibility to make sure that their children are supervised and their whereabouts are known at all times."

1815 GMT: Egypt. Completing a four-day visit, US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner expressed concern on Tuesday about growing political polarisation and a "climate of impunity" over abuses by police and security forces.

Posner avoided direct criticism of the Morsi Government; however, he said young people's economic and political concerns should be addressed, and the government should "reach out widely" to other political and social forces and hold consultations on the Constitution it pushed through in December.

"While recognising the need for the Egyptian government to take specific steps to build confidence and to address valid concerns, we condemn this violence unequivocally," Posner said. He noted that authorities had the right and duty to ensure public order and stop attacks by protesters, but he said:

At the same time there are credible reports that police and security forces have used excessive force. We have heard reports of cases throughout Egypt where the police have resorted to torture and other forms of cruel treatment of those in their custody. There are also reports of deaths in custody.

[The lack of prosecutions for abuse] contributes to a climate of impunity and a lack of meaningful accountability for these actions.

Posner said authorities had also failed to identify and punish perpetrators of "an alarming number of rapes and other acts of violence against women".

Posner met the Egyptian Foreign and Justice Ministers, a senior aide to Morsi, the nation's top Muslim cleric, and civil society leaders.

1415 GMT: Egypt. In an attempt to boost the economy, the Government is likely to implement a "reconcilement law" to speed up the return of businessmen who fled Egypt due to corruption allegations, giving them immunity from imprisonment or travel restrictions.

Businessmen who have already been convicted of offences will be subject to retrials without being legally bound to attend the trials.

The Shura Council, one of the two houses of Parliament, ratified the law on Sunday.

"This is an important step to attract investors and boost confidence in the Egyptian economy. This will definitely return capital that has been lost since Mubarak was ousted and pump it back into the economy," an official at the Ministry of Justice ministry said.

1325 GMT: Bahrain. Police have fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters trying to march to Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic centre of the pro-democracy uprising that began two years ago.

Hundreds of people marched towards the square in the capital Manama, carrying Bahraini flags and chanting, "Square of martyrdom, we all still have the will". The protest, called by the February 14 coalition, broke off from a march organised by the opposition society Al Wefaq.

"Down with the corrupt government. Khalifa resign," the demonstrators chanted. referring to the King's uncle. Prince Khalifa bin Salman, who has been Prime Minister for four decades.

Meanwhile, in an apparent disinformation campaign, supporters of the regime have been spreading "fake" flyers indicating that the opposition will intimidate anyone who does not observer a boycott of shopping, banking, and fuelling of cars on Thursday's second anniversary of the uprising (see 1250 GMT).

The February 14 Coalition has put a message on Twitter denouncing the flyers and asking people to rely only on information from recognised Coalition media.

An example of the flyers:

1250 GMT: Bahrain. The opposition society Al Wefaq has called on all Bahrainis to refrain from shopping, paying bills, and fuelling their cars on Thursday's second anniversary of the mass protests against the regime.

1206 GMT: Kuwait. A court has acquitted five bloggers of the charge of undermining the status of the Emir over remarks they posted on Twitter.

Other activists have been sentenced to prison terms this month for their tweets. The court of appeals has adjourned until 11 March the hearing for a blogger sentenced last year to 10 years in jail on charges of insulting the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on Twitter.

1136 GMT: Mali. The European Union has indicated that it will unblock €250 million in development aid, frozen after a March 2012 coup.

The aid money will be restored gradually this year, development chief Andris Piebalgs told a meeting of EU aid ministers in Dublin on Tuesday: "The swift adoption by the Malian authorities of a transition roadmap to restore democracy and stability has opened the door for lifting the precautionary measures taken after the coup d'etat of March 2012."

Meanwhile, tension continues in the northern city of Gao, reclaimed by French and Malian forces earlier this month but attacked by insurgents last weekend. Today French troops defused a homemade bomb they said contained 600 kilogrammes (1,300 pounds) of explosives in the centre of the city.

1132 GMT: Egypt. Ahram Online reports on the difficulties for the Government in dealing with ongoing shortages of diesel fuel.

1127 GMT: Egypt. Hundreds of police officers shut down the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior in at least seven provincial capitals on Tuesday protests against the Morsi Government.

Officials of a police union claimed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had used officers as tools to beat back demonstrations by his political opponents, scapegoating police for the fatalities in the clashes.

More than 50 people, almost all civilians, died in an outburst of violence in late January.

“We will not bear the responsibility of the political failure to contain the situation,” Ahmed Al-Helbawi, a leader of the police union, said. “Police and civilians are falling every day, and it needs to stop.”

1114 GMT: Bahrain. The second discussion in the renewed "national dialogue" takes place today in the capital Manama.

A number of groups, including several from the opposition such as Al Wefaq and Waad, accepted the regime's invitation to talks, which began on Sunday with a discussion of procedures.

However, with protests expected on Thursday's second anniversary of the start of mass demonstrations for reform and rights, a former high-ranking US official has grabbed headlines this morning. Dennis Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence in 2009-2010, has declared:

The Fifth Fleet headquarters should be moved back on board a flagship, as it was until 1993. This is an expensive proposition at a time when the defense budget is being reduced, but it is necessary. Permanent basing in a repressive Bahrain undermines our support for reform and is vulnerable if instability continues.

Blair  also called for encouragement of "moderate leaders" in both the Government and opposition to back step-by-step adoption of the November 2011 recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry --- "American military officers should use their personal and professional influence to convince their Bahraini counterparts that a peaceful and gradual transition to a constitutional democratic monarchy is in Bahrain’s best long-term interest" --- and for the US to obtain Saudi support for gradual reforms.

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