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US stand on Bahrain draws criticism

world Updated: Apr 15, 2011 23:30 IST
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Two months after the eruption of mass protests in Bahrain, the kingdom has largely silenced the opposition, jailing hundreds of activists in a crackdown that has left the Obama administration vulnerable to charges that it is selectively upholding democratic values in West Asia.

Bahrain’s monarchy, since calling in Saudi troops to help crush protests, has been quietly dismantling the country’s Shiite-led opposition. On Thursday, the Sunni government moved to ban Bahrain’s largest political party, the Shiite-dominated al-Wefaq.

The Obama administration has repeatedly appealed to the Bahraini government for restraint, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton this week called for a political process that “advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain.” But the administration has neither recalled its ambassador to Manama nor threatened the kinds of sanctions it imposed on Libya — a striking disparity that is fueling anti-US sentiment among Bahraini opposition groups. Some government opponents blame the United States for failing to put enough pressure on Bahrain and the neighbouring Gulf kingdoms that supported the crackdown. One prominent human rights activist described protesters as “very, very disappointed” by the mild American response.

US officials privately acknowledge that the administration has been understated in its criticism of Bahrain, in part to avoid further strain to relations with Saudi Arabia, a vital US ally. The Saudis, fearing the rise of a pro-Iranian Shiite state on its eastern frontier, urged Bahrain to deal firmly with protesters.

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