DUBAI (AFP) – Bahrain is to hold by-elections in September to replace Shiite opposition MPs who resigned in February in protest against a crackdown on anti-government protests, state media said on Wednesday.
Voters will go to the polls on September 24, and a runoff will be held if necessary on October 1, the official BNA news agency quoted Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa as saying.
In March, the 40-member parliament in March accepted the resignation of 11 out of 18 MPs from the main Shiite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, who walked out in February, shortly after a month-long protest began.
They stepped down after security forces killed seven protesters as authorities in the kingdom ruled by a Sunni dynasty attempted to curb protests inspired by uprisings that toppled Egypt’s and Tunisia’s presidents.
On March 16, security forces drove the mostly Shiite protesters out of central Manama’s Pearl Square and demolished their camp after King Hamad declared a state of emergency and called in Saudi-led Gulf troops to boost his security forces.
Authorities in the Shiite-majority nation said 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in the unrest.
Two former MPs, Matar Matar and Jawad Fayruz, were taken at gun point earlier this month, according to the opposition. Leaders of other opposition groups are being tried in a special court on charges including attempting to topple the monarchy and forming a terrorist group.
Four Shiites were sentenced to death and three others jailed for life by a military court for the alleged killing of two security men. Another was sentenced to seven years for an attempted murder of policemen during the protests.
Authorities said 405 detainees had been referred to special courts set under the emergency law while 312 have been released.
On Sunday, King Hamad ordered an end to the three-month state of emergency from June 1. It had been due to be lifted on June 15.
Bahrain has come under strong criticism from international human rights organisations for its heavy-handed crackdown.