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April 14, 2011

Bahrain Backs Away From Opposition Party Ban

Facing an international backlash, Bahrain's Sunni rulers on Friday backed away from a plan to dissolve the country's largest Shi'ite opposition group.

The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs had said Thursday that it filed a lawsuit against the Wefaq party and a smaller opposition group after weeks of Shi'ite-led anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.

A Justice Ministry statement said the two groups had attempted to bring down Bahrain's constitutional order and taken instructions from religious leaders.  

But on Friday, after criticism from nations including the United States, the state-run Bahrain News Agency reported that authorities are waiting until the outcome of investigations into the Wefaq party before acting.

Wefaq is the most powerful party in Bahrain's seven-member Shi'ite opposition, controlling 18 seats in the 40-member parliament.  Its legislators resigned from the body last month to protest the government crackdown on demonstrators.

Meanwhile, Iran on Friday demanded that the United Nations Security Council protect opposition activists in Bahrain.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi asked for "a serious and immediate action by the Security Council over suppressing people's demands in Bahrain using military force."

Bahrain has imposed a widespread crackdown after weeks of pro-democracy protests which it says Iran is fueling.  Opposition activists say hundreds of protesters have been arrested and there have been at least four deaths.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.