INTERVIEW-Bahrain Sunni says opposition must change leaders

Sat May 28, 2011 2:12pm GMT

* Government promotes Sunni group to counter opposition

* Leader says Shi'ite opposition must cut links to Iran

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA, May 28 (Reuters) - Bahrain's opposition must change its leadership for the divided Gulf Arab state to move on with political reconciliation after crushing a pro-democracy movement led by majority Shi'ites, a Sunni cleric said on Saturday.

Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Mahmoud said the democracy movement, which began in February when protesters inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt occupied a roundabout in Manama, had been hijacked by Shi'ite opposition leaders with a sectarian agenda who were in contact with Iran's clerical leadership.

Mahmoud led a team of Sunni negotiators coordinating with Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa in talks with the opposition days before Saudi troops entered Bahrain to help the government break up the protest movement and arrest its leaders in mid-March.

He said Shi'ite leaders, headed by Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the largest opposition group Wefaq, had overplayed their hand by trying to marginalise the royal family in the talks on political reform and accused them of taking orders from Iran -- a familiar Sunni charge against group.

"We consider there to be three forces: the system (royal family), the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, and political and constitutional reform needs the consent of all of them," he said in an interview.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.