LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron raised concerns over the use of violence against protesters in Bahrain in talks Thursday with the Gulf kingdom's crown prince — but faced sharp criticism for agreeing to host the ruler at his London residence.
Cameron met with Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa at his home at London's Downing Street for discussions on the uprisings across the Middle East and north Africa, including a crackdown by Bahraini authorities in March on demonstrations there.
"The Prime Minister raised concerns about the situation in Bahrain and stressed the importance of the government moving to a policy of reform rather than repression, (and) that all sides should address their grievances through genuine and constructive dialogue," Cameron's office said in a statement.
Bahrain's Sunni ruling family has said it will lift emergency laws imposed during the crackdown — which give wide powers to the military — on June 1, and suggested it will open talks with Shiite-led protesters in the Gulf kingdom.
Al Khalifa's visit with Cameron — who posed for photographs shaking the leader's hand outside Downing Street — comes after he declined an invitation to Prince William's royal wedding on April 29, saying he did not want his nation's unrest to tarnish the celebration.
In talks, Cameron "emphasized his support for the crown prince's long-standing work to achieve political and economic progress in Bahrain, and said that Britain would back efforts to normalize the situation and return Bahrain to a credible long-term process of reform," the British leader's office said.
Earlier, in a speech in Washington, President Barack Obama had criticized Bahrain's rulers. "Mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens," he said in his address.
In London, critics rounded on Cameron — deploring his decision to hold a meeting with Al Khalifa.
Denis MacShane, an opposition lawmaker and ex-foreign minister, accused Cameron of "rolling out the red carpet for Bahrain's torturer-in-chief."
He said Cameron was calling for the ouster of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, but that "the Bahraini despots who are equally guilty of repression and torture and mass arrests are being given tea and a gentle talking-to."
Peter Tatchell, a prominent human rights campaigner, said the meeting was an error of judgment. "Britain should not be conducting business as usual with a tyranny that is guilty of gross human rights abuses," he said.
Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report
David Stringer can be reached at http://twitter.com/david_stringer