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Bahrain court bans Shiite opposition group

The ban comes three weeks before parliamentary polls which the opposition group intended to boycott
Al-Wefaq opposition group leader Sheikh Ali Salman in Manama, on 11 October (AFP)

A Bahrain court banned the Gulf state's main opposition movement for three months Tuesday, just weeks before a parliamentary election group had already said it would boycott, a court official said.

The Manama administrative court ruled that al-Wefaq, which draws most of its support from the Sunni-ruled kingdom's Shiite population, had violated the law on associations.

It gave the group three months to regularise its status.

Al-Wefaq said it was seriously concerned by the move, which it described as "irrational and irresponsible."

The opposition group earlier this month announced it was boycotting elections because it does not feel the government has engaged in genuine reconciliation efforts following widespread Shiite-led protests directed at the Sunni government in 2011.

"The tyrannical dictatorship in Bahrain is ruling with an iron fist and moving to destroy the political and social life by blocking the people out," AFP reported al-Wefaq as saying.

Lawyer Abdullah al-Shamlawi told The Associated Press that Tuesday's verdict means all of al-Wefaq's activities would be frozen for three months.

In July, the justice ministry filed a suit against al-Wefaq, insisting the bloc must rectify its "illegal status following the annulment of four general assemblies for lack of a quorum and the non-commitment to the public and transparency requirements for holding them."

The ministry accused al-Wefaq of breaking the law and failing to "amend violations related to its illegal general assemblies and the consequent invalidity of all its decisions."

The United States had voiced "strong concerns" over the lawsuit, warning of its potential impact on the 22 November polls.

Elections for a new 40-seat lower house of parliament are the first since the 2011 protests. Municipal elections will be held simultaneously.

Al-Wefaq made slender gains in the last election in 2010, but withdrew its 18 MPs after the government crushed the protests in March 2011.

Political parties are banned in Bahrain, as in other Gulf Arab monarchies, and al-Wefaq has the status of an association. It was established in 2002 after the announcement of political reforms the previous year.

In the run up to the court ban, the Bahraini cabinet condemned recent acts of violence targeted at electoral candidates.

"Attempts to disrupt elections will not intimidate Bahrainis or prevent them from casting their ballots,"  the Cabinet said Monday at a meeting chaired by Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s Crown Prince.

"All national segments will confront illegal acts and attempts to intimidate citizens and prevent them from exercising their constitutional and democratic rights as candidates or voters,” said the cabinet.  

Reports of the ban provoked heated responses among supporters of the group on social media.