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GCC states urge UK to expel Bahraini dissidents

Gulf states "welcome" Mideast peace talks re-launch

Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council have called on Britain to expel two leaders of Bahrain's Shiite opposition charged with plotting to oust the kingdom's Sunni government.

The six GCC states urged Britain "to deal seriously with terrorist groups and individuals supporting terrorism... and not to grant them political asylum, or allow them to exploit the climate of freedom to damage the security and stability of member countries."

In a statement issued after a meeting of the bloc in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah early Tuesday, the ministers also expressed support for Bahrain's move to curb "terror," after it charged 23 Shiite opposition activists, including the two London-based leaders, on Saturday with "forming a terror network."

Crackdown

Hussein Mashaima is secretary general of Haq -- the Movement of Liberties and Democracy -- a Shiite group which rejected as inadequate 2002 reforms intended to put an end to Shiite-led unrest that rocked the 35-island archipelago through the 1990s.

Saeed al-Sheehabi is secretary general of the Bahrain Freedom Islamist Movement.

The crackdown on the opposition activists, which followed sporadic acts of violence in recent months, has raised tensions in the runup to an Oct. 23 parliamentary election.

Sheikh Ali Salman -- leader of the mainstream Shiite opposition Islamic National Accord Association, which took part in the last election in 2006 winning 17 of the 40 seats in parliament -- warned last month that it would "lead to more protests."

The GCC consists of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as Bahrain.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks "welcomed"

The GCC foreign ministers have also said they "welcome" the re-launch of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but warned that Israeli "acts of aggression" may compromise them.

"The ministerial council welcomes... the resumption of direct Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations... in hope that the talks (which were re-launched) in Washington will lead to... the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital," a statement said.

The six ministers warned that "continuing acts of aggression" by Israel could "undermine efforts to restore peace and stability in the region."

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resumed direct negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Thursday, 20 months after he broke them off when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The Arab League gave its backing to the Palestinian president's decision to re-launch the talks but last week the 22-nation bloc's secretary general Amr Moussa noted widespread pessimism in the region about their prospects.

"Deep concern" over Iran

On Iran, the Gulf ministers said they were following developments in the standoff over its controversial nuclear program with "deep concern."

They said they hoped Iran would cooperate with diplomatic efforts to allay suspicions about its intentions.

They supported "the right of countries in the region to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes... under the standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency," and called on Israel, which has the region's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, to apply those standards as well.

The ministers called on Iraqi leaders to "form a national consensus government... away from any sectarian or ethnic considerations and foreign interference."

Six months after an inconclusive general election, Iraqi leaders remain at loggerheads over the formation of a new governing coalition.

Washington has called on them to form a national unity administration that ensures representation for all of Iraq's ethnic and religious groups.