Thursday

26th Nov 2020

EU unlikely to call on Bahrain regime to step down

  • An 'invasion' of Bahrain by Saudi troops has been condemned by the opposition, but the EU stresses that the forces were invited in (Photo: Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

An escalation in the government crack-down on pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain and the incursion of 1,000 Saudi troops on the island, has spooked European capitals, which had not expected the tiny but geostrategically important state to be destabilised in the wake of the ongoing regional uprisings.

The EU is treating the explosive situation gingerly, with officials saying privately that the bloc is not about to call for the leader, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to step down as they did in Egypt and have done in Libya.

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After security forces from the country, a long a close ally of Nato and home to the US Fifth Fleet, began using live ammunition against peaceful protestors and occupied a hospital in the capital, blocking access to medical help and targetting doctors, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement calling for dialogue with the authorities.

"There is no alternative to dialogue," she said on Thursday (17 March) following a telephone conversation with the Bahraini foreign minister. "The government must do all it can to initiate a political process with concrete steps that answers the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Bahrainis."

"This is the only way forward to restore lasting stability and security."

An estimated 20 individuals have been killed since the start of protests in February, with six killed in the last 24 hours and a total of 1,000 wounded.

On Monday, some 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops with 150 armoured vehicles and accompanied by 500 police from the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain.

Ashton has not condemned on the incursion, saying only that she "takes note" of the development and of the government's declaration of a three-month state of emergency.

The government said that it had invited the foreign troops, but opposition groups are describing the situation as an "invasion" and an "occupation".

Ashton spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that the EU's assessment of the presence of Saudi forces is more along the lines of the regime: "Our interpretation is somewhat different. These forces were invited by the government."

EU foreign ministers are to discuss a common position on the events in the country on Monday at a meeting in Brussels, but according to diplomats, they will likely limit themselves to "deplore the violence, call for restraint and encourage a national dialogue."

The ministers will probably give some thought to how the EU and member states can encourage and broaden a dialogue between the country and neighbouring states. It is unlikely though, according to officials, that the EU will call on foreign troops to leave Bahrain, or for the government to step down.

Ministers on Monday will also discuss the situation in Yemen, where an estimated 39 protesters were killed and 200 wounded on Friday, according to doctors interviewed by the BBC.

"There is more room for a transition in Yemen than Bahrain," said one EU source.

Another EU diplomat said that calling for Gaddafi and Mubarak to step down was "entirely different. The constitutional situation is different."

"On the consistency point, if you extrapolate language from one country and expect exactly the same language in a different situation, well, we believe these countries are different."

"The consistency argument in the Middle East is always the enemy of action."

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