MANAMA // Bahraini opposition groups continued to consider their demands ahead of talks led by the Crown Prince, as thousands of protesters remained camped out at Pearl Roundabout last night.
Ali al Aswad, an MP with the main opposition Al Wefaq bloc, said yesterday that his party and other political groups were working to agree upon a set of specific demands before talks on a path to reform begin.
"First we need the government to resign. We can't talk to this government after this disaster," he said. "We also need to be able to talk about the constitution."
The opposition groups hoped to submit a full list of their "requirements" by today, Mr al Aswad added.
Thousands flooded into the Pearl roundabout in the centre of Manama on Saturday afternoon, after the army was ordered to withdraw from the area by Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, who has been assigned by his father, King Hamad, to open a real dialogue with the opposition.
Sheikh Salman has acknowledged the need for reform, while calling for calm after almost a week of unrest.
"There are clear messages from the Bahraini people … about the need for reforms," he said yesterday in a television interview.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said Bahrain must carry out immediate political reforms, calling the violence against protesters "unacceptable."
"Bahrain had started on some reform and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible," Mrs Clinton told ABC's This Week programme in an interview conducted on Friday.
The island kingdom has been rocked by the crackdown, which has left at least six dead and scores injured by security forces. After the army and riot police were pulled out of central Manama on Saturday, Bahrain's main trade union called off a strike that had been planned for today, since it had been aimed at urging the government to allow protesters to demonstrate peacefully. But some workers did strike yesterday.
After days of tension, the streets were calmer yesterday, as the emphasis switched to negotiations among protest groups and parties over demands ahead of the expected talks between the opposition and the monarchy.
The centre of the Pearl roundabout is now a real camp, with portable toilets, scores of tents, food distribution points and medical treatment areas. Individuals have taken it upon themselves to volunteer to clean parts of the vast camp, with some carting around boxes, picking up rubbish from the ground, while others hand out water to those who want it.
Yousef Ibrahim, a tall 18-year-old studying aircraft engineering, arrived to the protest camp yesterday morning.
"I never expected something like this would happen," said Mr Ibrahim, one of the Sunnis among the crowd. "I really hope there will be change for all. We are all Bahrainis, all brothers with the same demands."
Also among those who congregated at the roundabout yesterday were about 100 lawyers, demanding justice for the victims of the crimes committed over the last week.
Fadhel Abbas, a 33-year-old lawyer, dressed in a suit and wearing a "Yes to change" badge, said: "As legal professionals we are also saying we need to change the constitution. This is the foundation of the problem."
While many in the crowds speak of a need for constitutional reform, some protesters reject the idea of talks with Bahrain's rulers.
But Mr al Aswad of Al Wefaq said it was vital to start a dialogue, while the protesters continue to keep up the pressure. "What happened here cannot be resolved without dialogue," he said. "But, we also need for the king and the crown prince to say sorry. This is so important to the families of the six who were killed."
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse