x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bahrain's King Hamad calls on opposition groups to return to talks

Bahrain’s opposition parties have agreed to an invitation by the king to join new political talks, however the ruling family will not be directly involved. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Bahrain’s opposition parties have agreed to an invitation by the king to join new political talks, the first since 2011 when Arab Spring-inspired protests erupted in the country.

The invitation to resume discussions on a set of “pending issues to be agreed upon, aiming to achieve further consensus around the political agenda”, was issued by the minister of justice, Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa, according to a statement from the country’s information affairs authority (IAA).

The discussions are expected to be the broadest in Bahrain’s recent history, including both opposition and traditionally more loyalist political representatives.

“We are waiting for a positive response and we would like all parties to know that we are ready to sit at the table of dialogue, keen on reaching a final and comprehensive national consensus,” the state news agency quoted the minister of information, Samira Al Rajab, saying.

Late on Tuesday, Bahrain’s largest opposition party, the Shia Al Wefaq bloc, released a statement affirming “its seriousness to engage in a genuine process of dialogue and political negotiation that responds to the aspirations of freedom, dignity and equality.”

By phone from Manama, a Wefaq spokesman confirmed its members would join the talks, although they had concerns about the level of government representation.

“The opposition groups will send their representatives, though they have not yet received an official call,” said Khalil Al Marzouq, a former MP and a spokesman for Al Wefaq.

“But unfortunately it’s not a direct dialogue with the rulers,” he said, expressing his concern that the ruling family was not directly involved.

“That means [the government is] just trying to press on idea that the dispute in Bahrain is just between the people, not between the people and the ruling family.”

A coalition of 10 Sunni political societies also indicated that they would support the initiative, according to a statement by one of the groups, the National Unity Assembly.

“While welcoming this invitation as a way out of the crisis experienced by the country … we emphasise our positions in the defence of the interests of the masses and their aspirations to achieve a secure and stable life,” the statement said.

Although details about the exact arrangements for forthcoming talks, the IAA statement said that they were a resumption of a national dialogue first convened by the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa at the height of protests in February and March 2011.

Those talks collapsed after the largest Shia bloc pulled out of discussions when a Gulf Cooperation Council military operation dispersed street protesters. At least 80 people have died since the unrest first began in 2011.

Despite the plan for new talks, a youth coalition of opposition activists under the umbrella name February 14, the anniversary of the demonstrations, called for a protest in Manama tomorrow, according their Facebook page yesterday.

The group has also called for a general strike on the demonstration’s two-year anniversary.

edickinson@thenational.ae

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