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Bahrain opposition ready for dialogue

20 March 2012, 10:27

Dubai - Bahrain's Shi'ite-led opposition expressed on Monday readiness for dialogue with authorities to end the political deadlock in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, but demanded a referendum on the outcome.

The five main opposition associations, led by the major Shii'te formation, Al-Wefaq, said in a statement that the two sides of the dialogue should agree beforehand on its "agenda, mechanism, and time frame, in order to help create initial confidence."

The groups also demanded that the dialogue include opposition leaders jailed in the wake of a brutal crackdown last year on a month-long protest demanding democratic change.

The opposition acknowledged that they have not received any invitation for talks, but said they were preparing in case negotiations were initiated and had agreed to form a "joint delegation" to any future talks.

The statement was released following a meeting of the groups, including the National Democratic Action Association, or Waed in Arabic, the Nationalist Democratic Rally Association, Alekha National Society, and National Democratic Assembly.

Political parties are banned in Bahrain, and licensed associations act as de facto parties.

The five groups said the results of the dialogue should be agreed by the public, and insisted that the outcome should be "revealed to the people so that an agreement can win popular and legal legitimacy".

They reiterated that the dialogue should be based on the offer tabled by Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa days before the clampdown in March last year.

Salman had said he supported vesting the parliament with full powers, and pledged to tackle naturalisation, administrative and financial corruption, and sectarian tensions.

The Shi'ite majority have always complained of using naturalisation to tip the demographic balance in favour of Sunnis loyal to the ruling family.

The opposition urged state media to end a campaign of "political and sectarian incitement against the opposition and large groups of the Bahraini people," calling for the restructuring of government media to become a "professional national media".

They also renewed demands for the implementation of the recommendations of an independent probe which accused police of using excessive force against demonstrators and torturing prisoners.

A report on the government's progress so far is due out on Tuesday.

Tensions have remained high since the deadly crackdown last year. An independent probe said 35 people were killed in the unrest, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death.


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