Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:41 pm (KSA) 17:41 pm (GMT)

Shiite MPs walk out over Bahrain population row

A woman holds a placard reading "Long live Iran. Iranian children look towards Bahrain" during a rally in Tehran. (file)
A woman holds a placard reading "Long live Iran. Iranian children look towards Bahrain" during a rally in Tehran. (file)

Bahrain's main opposition group, Shiite al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, stormed out of parliament on Tuesday over what they said was government manipulation of population data in the Gulf Arab state.

For years the kingdom has officially had a population of about 740,000, but state statistics in February showed it had jumped about 42 percent to 1.05 million, stirring controversy on an island divided along sectarian lines.

The Shiite opposition had accused officials of either negligence or intentionally hiding true population figures after the big population jump appeared suddenly in the statistics. Its members walked out after a probe cleared the state statistics chief of wrongdoing.

"The investigative committee did not hear all the charges of those who called for the investigation ... it was not qualified to conduct the investigation and it was forced upon us," opposition MP Khalil Almarzooq told Reuters.

"We have now objected and withdrawn from the parliamentary meeting," added Almarzooq, speaking for Al-Wefaq which holds 17 of parliament's 40 seats.

The remaining 23 MPs backed an investigative committee's finding that cleared Sheikh Ahmed Attiatullah al-Khalifa, president of the Central Informatics Organization, of failing to provide accurate population statistics, Almarzooq said.

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim royal family but has a majority Shiite population, who omplain of discrimination in jobs and services and accuse the state of giving Sunni foreigners citizenship to dilute Shiite influence.

Government officials have repeatedly denied the accusations.

Sheikh Ahmed was not immediately available to comment, his office said. In earlier comments to newspapers, he has denied any wrongdoing, and said his accusers misunderstood how population statistics were compiled.

Plans for state spending on housing, healthcare and other schemes were now invalid because they used an inaccurate population figure, Almarzooq said. Mainly Shiites live in Bahrain's poorer districts.

Pro-Western Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

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