WASHINGTON — The Obama administration condemned Bahrain's moves Thursday to disband two Shiite opposition groups, urging the ruling Sunni minority to favor pluralism instead.
"We're concerned by it. These were legitimate political societies that were recognized by the government of Bahrain," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
"We call on the government of Bahrain to support freedom of association and expression, and to foster an environment that encourages political pluralism and participation."
Bahrain's Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs earlier filed a lawsuit to dissolve the Islamic Action Association and the powerful Al-Wefaq party a month after a bloody government crackdown on protesters crushed an opposition movement that called for democratic reforms, state news agency BNA reported.
The decision comes "due to the breaches of the kingdom's laws and constitution committed by both associations and for their activities that have negatively affected the civil peace and national unity," according to the statement.
"We would welcome them reversing this particular action," said Toner. "It is of concern to us that this is a registered, legitimate political society that has before now been recognized by the government of Bahrain."
Jeffrey Feltman, President Barack Obama's assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is due to visit Bahrain next week during which he hopes to speak with the different parties, Toner said.
The United States voiced concern Wednesday over prison deaths in Bahrain after the Shiite Muslim opposition said a fourth detainee, Karim Fakhrawi, had died in custody.
Saudi-led forces entered Bahrain last month, sparking a war of words between various Gulf Arab states and Iran, and freeing up Bahraini security forces to crush the protests that had erupted February 14.
Al-Wefaq was the main opposition group in parliament, controlling almost half of the 40 seats before its MPs resigned.
The group has called for political reforms and for transforming Bahrain to a constitutional monarchy.
But its leaders, have never publicly called for the departure of the pro-Western Al-Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled Shiite-majority Bahrain since 1783, as radical Shiite groups and protesters have done.
The Islamic Action Association has also joined the protests in which Bahraini authorities said that 24 people were killed in the only Shiite-majority Gulf Arab state.
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