Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Bahrain’s largest Shia opposition group yesterday after it pulled out of government-led national reform talks earlier this week.
“It’s a lie, it’s a lie,” the crowd chanted as Wefaq leaders dismissed the national dialogue from which the Islamic party withdrew last Sunday.
The dialogue was initiated after a four-month crackdown that began in March to crush weeks of pro-democracy protests led by the Shia majority.
The party said its views were not being taken seriously in talks it said were dominated by pro-government representatives. That decision still has to be ratified by the movement’s higher council.
“Our demands remain the same. An elected government, elected parliament, one vote for each citizen and independent judiciary,” Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman said on the sidelines of the rally in the Shia Diraz district outside Manama.
“(The dialogue) is nothing but a joke. None of the people’s issues have been addressed. But we are still open to a real dialogue.”
Wefaq supporters carried flags and pictures of people who have died since the protest movement began in February.
The walkout by the influential opposition group could damage the dialogue’s chances of reaching national consensus as sectarian tensions continue to simmer in the kingdom.
Thousands of Bahraini Shias joined demonstrations in February and March to demand democratic reforms of Bahrain’s constitutional monarchy.
Hardliners who want to abolish the monarchy in favour of a republic have gained some ground among those Shias who feel moderates like Wefaq have yet to achieve any reforms by taking a more conciliatory tone.
Bahraini officials accuse Wefaq and other Shia opposition leaders of a sectarian agenda and of receiving backing from Shia power Iran. The opposition denies this.