BEIRUT

Middle East

Bahrain king expands crown prince’s role

FILE - A photo taken on December 24, 2012 shows Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa smiling to the journalists the Bahraini capital of Manama. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED AL-SHAIKH)

MANAMA: Bahrain’s king has appointed his heir to an additional role overseeing government affairs in an apparent gesture to opposition groups that have led more than two years of protests in the Gulf nation.

Monday’s announcement by the official Bahrain News Agency said that Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa will have the added portfolio of first deputy premier to monitor the performance of top offices in the strategic kingdom, which is home to the U.S. navy’s 5th Fleet.

The move by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa could be an effort to accelerate the slow-moving talks between Shiite-led opposition groups and envoys from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy. The crown prince is seen as more receptive to political compromises than others in Bahrain’s ruling family, which has waged withering crackdowns on protesters, mainly Shiites calling for a greater political voice.

The king said his son’s appointment was aimed at “enhancing the performance of the executive arm” of the government in the face of the wave of unrest dogging the small but strategic archipelago since February 2011, the official BNA news agency said.

More than 60 people have been killed in the Arab Spring-inspired unrest, but some activists place the death toll higher.

The largest Shiite political group, Al-Wefaq, said it welcomes the move and hoped it would “reflect in a positive way on the dialogue process.” But Al-Wefaq said it still wants to have senior government posts decided through elections rather than appointments by the monarch.

The government has also been cracking down on social media sites that have served as primary news outlets since authorities have blocked many international journalists from entering Bahrain. But there were signs Monday the campaign could be easing.

On Monday, the acting president of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, Yousef al-Muhafedha, was found not guilty of posting inaccurate Twitter messages about some anti-government protests, said his lawyer Mohammad al-Jishi.

It was the third time a court dismissed cyber-related charges, indicating a possible softening of an Internet crackdown in the Sunni-ruled Gulf nation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 12, 2013, on page 9.

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