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Bahrain's opposition to boycott 'useless' elections

Four opposition groups said they will not take part in November elections to vote in a new 40-seat lower house of parliament in Bahrain
Bahrain's Al-Wefaq opposition group leader Sheikh Ali Salman speaking at a press conference (AFP)

Bahrain's opposition on Saturday announced a boycott of parliamentary elections planned for November, saying the vote will be "useless" and “entrench dictatorship.”

Four opposition groups, including the main Shiite movement Al-Wefaq, vowed to pursue "peaceful protests" in Bahrain until their demand for a constitutional monarchy is achieved.

The tiny Gulf kingdom remains deeply divided since it was rocked by protests in February 2011.

King Hamad set elections for a new 40-seat lower house of parliament for 22 November, the first such polls since protests erupted in 2011. Municipal elections will be held simultaneously.

The largele Shiite al-Wefaq, which led the protest movement against the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy, had made slender gains in the last polls in 2010.

But it withdrew its 18 MPs after the uprising was crushed by the Bahraini government.

In an English-language statement the opposition groups denounced the elections as "a new autocratic step" by the government and urged Bahrainis to join the boycott.

"The fact that the authority has taken this decision... (is) a new autocratic step added to its continuous persistence to maintain its totalitarian rule," it said.

The statement added all sides in Bahrain must engage "in serious negotiations and dialogue" before any election.

A national dialogue process has been frozen since January due to sharp differences of opinion of the three yearlong uprising and a failure to agree on a format and agenda for the talks.

A proposal by authorities in September to relaunch a national dialogue was given a frosty reception by al-Wefaq.

The proposal has five core elements, including the redefinition of electoral districts and permission for parliament to question the premier and his ministers.

The opposition is demanding an independent election commission and the dissolution of the Consultative Council, parliament's upper chamber whose members are appointed by the king.

They are also demanding the prime minister be appointed by parliamentary majority, instead of the king.

Bahrain is a key US ally and part of the coalition strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq.

Domestically Bahrain has seen some of its own Sunni citizens leave to join the IS and on Friday the state news agency BNA posted an obituary for a Bahraini who had apparently died fighting with the group. Abdelaziz al-Joudar, another fighter from #Bahrain with #ISIS, reported killed in #Iraq

However, the obituary was later deleted when it emerged the man had not in fact died.

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