The King of Bahrain was welcomed by David Cameron on the steps of Downing Street yesterday at the start of an unofficial visit that was hushed up until the last minute to avoid protests dogging the controversial talks.
The visit is the first time King Hamad al-Khalifa has travelled to Britain since a string of deadly clashes broke out between his security forces and predominantly Shia protesters demanding democratic reform and better representation in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
The King, dressed in a gold-embroidered tunic, posed with Mr Cameron for photographs outside No 10 before heading inside for talks on what officials insisted was his country's commitment to reform.
As the two leaders sat down, reports emerged from opposition and human rights groups in Bahrain that a six-day-old girl had died after inhaling tear gas. According to Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, the Bahrain Freedom Movement and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Sajida al-Ghurafi turned blue after tear-gas was fired in the suburb of Bilad al-Qadim over the weekend. She later died. The Ministry of Health said the girl died from bacterial meningitis and that her death preceded skirmishes in Bilad al-Qadim.
Video footage posted online showed protesters carrying a tiny coffin draped in the Bahraini flag. Images sent to The Independent by opposition activists show the body of a dark-haired girl wrapped in a white shawl. A second image shows what activists claimed was her father placing his daughter in a grave. The death has yet to be confirmed independently but it has highlighted the tense situation in the Gulf kingdom.
At least 40 people are known to have been killed in clashes with security forces so far this year, including five documented cases of people being tortured to death in custody. Nearly 3,000 people were arrested following the outbreak of protests inspired by the Arab Spring and a further 700 remain in custody. The Bahraini government has promised to implement a number of reforms that have been recommended by an independent panel set up to investigate the protests and the government's response.
Recent reforms have included the sacking of the head of the National Security Agency, the creation of a reform commission made up of Shia and Sunni officials, a promise to record video of all police interrogations and the hiring of former Metropolitan Police commissioner John Yates to advise on reforming the police. But critics of the regime say the pace of reform is too slow.Reuse content