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Even as there are reports of troops pulling back, the kingdom takes a hard line on protests
Bahrain said Tuesday that it was lifting the country’s state of emergency and inviting opponents to join wide-ranging talks on political reform, the Washington Post reported.
The end of the state of emergency on Wednesday after months of an intensive crackdown paves the way for the departure of foreign troops and the transfer of authority for order from the army to the police. On Tuesday, eleven weeks after Bahrain called in the foreign troops to crush an anti-government uprising, there were already reports of a withdrawal of troops and tanks from some parts of the capital, Manama, which has remained under military control since March 15. Officials close to the Bahraini royal family said the military withdrawal would include troops from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries that were dispatched to Bahrain after an appeal from King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, the Washington Post said.
At the same time, the country's Ministry of Justice warned Tuesday against "any type of activities that could affect the security or harm the national peace and safety," Bahrain's official news agency reported, according to CNN. Justice officials warned of severe consequences for any who acted against the nation’s “security and unity,” according to the Washington Post.
The king, a Sunni, declared martial law in March in an attempt to shut down Shiite Muslim-led demonstrations calling for more democracy and civil rights after the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, according to Bloomberg News.
On Tuesday, the king appealed for dialogue, CNN reported, saying that talks with opposition groups would begin in July. The king said at that point the nation would begin a “comprehensive, serious dialogue, without conditions,” about national reconciliation. But he stopped short of spelling out specific changes that would satisfy the Shiite-led protesters, who began protests in February for more political rights in the Gulf island kingdom, the Associated Press reported. Shiite comprise about 70 percent of the population, but complain of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni rulers.
Last week, Bahrain said it had released 515 detainees who had been held since the state of emergency went into effect. The country is also scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in September, filling seats vacated by members of the Wefaq party, Bahrain's largest Shiite opposition group, which left in protest over the crackdown, CNN reported.