US urges Bahrain to 'exercise restraint' in response to protests

The Obama administration on Friday urged the government of Bahrain to "exercise restraint" in responding to peaceful protests in the Persian Gulf kingdom. 

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State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States is concerned about rising violence in Bahrain and urges all Bahrainis to pursue their political objectives peacefully.

Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been rocked by protests since the government quashed an Arab Spring-inspired uprising in February and March of last year.

Nuland’s comments come on the one-year anniversary of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report, which faulted the government for systematic torture and made recommendations to alleviate tensions.

Bahrain has taken “important steps” toward implementing BICI recommendations, Nuland said in a statement, including allowing the International Red Cross to visit prisons and a new police code of conduct, among other reforms.

Nuland added that there are delays in fully implementing the report’s recommendations. She cited concerns "regarding accountability for official abuse, limits on freedom of expression and assembly, meaningful security sector reform, and a political environment that has become increasingly inhospitable to reconciliation.”

Calling Bahrain a “valued strategic partner and longtime friend of the United States,” Nuland said the U.S. would continue to encourage the Bahraini government and all segments of its society to create an “environment conducive to political dialogue and reconciliation."

“The Bahraini Government can only achieve the more prosperous, stable, and secure Bahrain it seeks through the continuation of the reform efforts it has initiated and must now fully implement,” she said.

In late October, the State Department issued a tough and lengthy condemnation of Bahrain's crackdown on protesters, saying the United States is “deeply concerned” by the U.S. ally's decision to outlaw public gatherings.

“Freedoms of assembly, association and expression are universal human rights,” department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We urge the government of Bahrain to uphold its international commitments and ensure that its citizens are able to assemble peacefully and to express their views without fear of arrest or detention.”

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