Bahrain's King Hamad pledged Tuesday to press on with political reforms, more than a year after quelling a Shiite-led uprising, as the UN rights office criticised the kingdom for its ongoing crackdown of dissent.
Speaking in Manama after receiving a report on progress in implementing the recommendations of an international probe into last year's crackdown, he said their implementation "reflects Bahrain's commitment to reform in all fields."
The monarch also said the "doors to dialogue were, and remain, open," without, however, referring to a call by the opposition for a "serious" dialogue to end the country's political deadlock.
King Hamad, whose Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa dynasty rules the Shiite-majority Gulf kingdom, insisted that security is a must for reform and sovereignty.
He warned that Bahrain will not tolerate foreign intervention, in an apparent reference to Iran, which Manama accuses of meddling in support of the Shiites.
"Security and stability are a major pillar for growth, progress and reform, and what harms the country's stability affects its sovereignty and opens the door to foreign intervention," he said.
King Hamad warned that Bahrain "will never give up" its sovereignty.
The king welcomed troops from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries in the Gulf to help crush last year's Shiite-dominated protests.
"The clock will not tick backwards," he said, hailing his own troops and the Gulf forces for "protecting vital installations" since the brutal crackdown.
Meanwhile, Hadi al-Moussawi, a leading member of the main Shiite opposition group, told reporters that "we demand international protection," urging the authorities to allow foreign reporters and rights groups free access to Bahrain.
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"The king has repeatedly thanked security forces accused of violations, so what would we expect from a report that was handed over to the king who is thanking those who committed crimes?" Moussawi said in remarks published on Al-Wefaq's official Facebook page.
Some 35 people were killed in last year's unrest, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death, according to an independent commission ordered by the king last June, and tensions have since remained high.
The National Commission's report claimed on Tuesday that progress has been made in reforming the country's police, judiciary, social policy, education system and media, accounting for past actions and reconciliation.
The reforms included a new police code of conduct and training, as well as the inspection of detention centres by the Red Cross, after the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry said in November that excessive force had been used and detainees tortured.
Steps have also been taken to recruit 500 policemen from all walks of Bahraini society, a government statement said.
Judicial measures included establishing an "independent body within the public prosecution" to oversee investigations into deaths, torture, abuse and mistreatment, while all charges related to "free speech" have been dropped, benefiting 334 people.
On reconciliation, the progress report said the government had begun rebuilding 12 places of worship, after Shiite complaints about the demolition of many mosques last year.
It also said all public sector workers had been reinstated and private firms "successfully encouraged" to take back most Shiites sacked for supporting the protests.
But the UN rights office on Tuesday challenged Bahrain's claimed progress on reforms, criticising security forces for their "disproportionate use of force" in quelling protests in recent months.
It cited reports by NGOs saying the use of tear gas may have led to more than 30 deaths over the past year.
"The use of tear gas in particular has reportedly resulted in a number of deaths of protesters and bystanders, and that number has reportedly risen in recent months," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.