Top Bahrain cleric says dialogue looks set to fail

Fri Jun 24, 2011 2:47pm GMT

By Erika Solomon

MANAMA (Reuters) - A top Bahraini Shi'ite cleric said on Friday that a national dialogue due to start next week looked set to fail, as the opposition nursed "pain and suffering" from the jailing of protesters.

Bahrain has tried dozens of people by military court in the wake of a fierce March crackdown by its Sunni rulers on mass protests led mostly by the Shi'ite majority. Hundreds, mostly Shi'ites, were arrested and many have yet to be charged.

Sheikh Issa Qasim, the most revered Shi'ite cleric in the Gulf island kingdom, told the audience crammed into his village mosque that conditions for the talks due to start next Friday were not promising.

"This dialogue says for itself it is a failure ... It is difficult to reconcile what is happening on the ground with the call to dialogue."

The criticism came less than a day after Bahrain's military court said it would move all the protest-linked trials it had not started to a civilian court.

The Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development said the move created the right atmosphere before the national dialogue between the government and opposition.

Opposition groups have said at least 400 people have been put on trial at military courts, but the government says the number is far smaller. It is not clear how many cases will be transferred to civilian courts.

"It is not just a positive step, it is a corrective step," said Sayed al-Mousawi, from the leading Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq. "But what we really want is for them to stop all of the trials completely. They are not real cases, they are fabricated."   Continued...

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