German think tank says it’s forced out of UAE

Mar 29, 2012, 4:49 PM

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) – A pro-democracy think tank with links to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said Thursday it is closing its office in Abu Dhabi after officials there ordered that it end its activities in the United Arab Emirates.

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s chairman, Hans-Gert Poettering, said no “comprehensible reasons” were given for the decision, which he described as unexpected and sudden.

The organization was one of several pro-democracy and human rights groups targeted in a separate recent crackdown by the Egyptian government, months after a popular uprising that ousted longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

The U.S.-allied UAE has not been hit by the unrest that has spread across the Middle East in the past year, including in nearby Bahrain. UAE authorities have moved aggressively against any signs of dissent that could challenge the country’s tight political controls.

“After our experiences in Egypt, we not only regret this decision, but consider it an alarm signal if non-governmental organizations and political foundations are increasingly unwanted in the Arab world,” Poettering said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle twice pressed his UAE counterpart to reconsider the decision over the past week, according to Westerwelle’s ministry. Merkel herself said she regrets the closure _ but added that it apparently was part of a wider move by UAE authorities.

Officials there say the decision “is not directed against the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, but involves the overall closure of foundations,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. She added that Germany would try to “continue close cooperation” with the UAE.

The foundation said it started working in the UAE on the basis of an invitation issued by the Emirates in 2008 and has been trying to get a legal registration since. Its office in Abu Dhabi was opened in June 2009.

UAE officials could not be reached for comment Thursday evening, just before the start of the weekend in the Muslim Gulf country.

The crackdown on dissent in the UAE has included disbanding elected boards of several professional associations, including the influential group of lawyers, curbing the academic freedoms of institutions such as the Harvard-affiliated Dubai School of Government, and revoking the license of an influential Dubai think tank, the Gulf Research Center, which is now based in Geneva.

Political activity is severely restricted in the Gulf federation. There are no official opposition groups in the oil-rich union of seven city-states.

____

Barbara Surk contributed from Dubai.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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German think tank says it’s forced out of UAE