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Jul 20, 2:07 PM EDT

Bahrain files lawsuit to suspend opposition group


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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- Bahrain's Justice Ministry filed a lawsuit Sunday to suspend the activities of the country's main Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq for three months.

The move by the government comes after top Al-Wefaq figures met with a U.S. State Department official without a Bahraini government representative present earlier this month. This angered the Gulf country's leadership, who ordered U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski to immediately leave Bahrain.

The lawsuit, though, makes no mention of the meeting. Instead, Bahrain's official news agency reported that the ministry is taking Al-Wefaq to court for violating regulations of transparency in their general meetings.

The Ministry of Justice said it filed the lawsuit after Al-Wefaq broke the law and its own statutes by "holding two general assemblies without following the quorum rules, and calling for two others in a total lack of transparency." The ministry's statement said the lawsuit calls for suspending the group's activities for three months until it "rectifies its illegal status."

Al-Wefaq spokesman Abdul-Jalil Khalil told The Associated Press that the ministry's latest case is aimed at targeting the group's political activities and the opposition in Bahrain.

"It is a political decision and it will lead to closing all doors in Bahrain for a serious and meaningful dialogue or a national reconciliation," Khalil said.

A suspension could further inflame tensions among Bahrain's majority Shiites and lead to greater unrest on the streets of the tiny Arab nation.

Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, has been rocked by more than three years of Shiite-dominated protests demanding greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy. The government moved to crush the Arab Spring-inspired uprising with the help of security forces from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring Gulf Arab states in 2011. Dozens of protesters have been killed.

Repeated rounds of talks between the government and members of the opposition have failed to significantly defuse the tensions. Al-Wefaq boycotted the last round of talks last fall.

In a serious blow to the opposition in January, a Bahraini court ordered an influential council of Shiite clerics to be disbanded for allegedly operating outside the law.

A group of five opposition groups, including Al-Wefaq, said in a statement Sunday that the government's decisions demonstrate "that it is not serious about an inclusive political solution."

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