x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Bahrain set to resume talks on consensus

Opposition vows to keep up protests while concern is raised by political groups at the lack of agenda for the discussions.

Bahrain's justice minister is set to open political talks to "promote vital national interests" today amid the prospect of further unrest this week in the run-up to the second anniversary of Arab Spring-inspired protests in the kingdom.

The resumption of the National Consensus Dialogue being hosted by Shaikh Khalid bin Ali Al Khalifa comes ahead of the anniversary of the protests at the Pearl roundabout in Manama on February 14, 2011.

The talks are expected to include eight representatives each from the two main political alliances, eight legislators, and two or three government ministers, said the dialogue's official spokesman, Isa Abdulrahman.

The Shiite bloc Al Wefaq leads the opposition alliance of six organisations. Loyalist groups form the second alliance, calling itself the National Coalition.

The National Dialogue resurrects an attempt at political discussion that began in 2011. Initial talks organised under the court of the crown prince in February fell apart when opposition societies withdrew after a Gulf Cooperation Council military operation dispersed protesters in early March.

Two years later, protests by the Shiite majority continue throughout the country - most recently in a licensed opposition march last Friday - often attracting tens of thousands of demonstrators who say that they face discrimination and political marginalisation.

Opposition societies, as well as a coalition of youth groups calling themselves February 14, have vowed to continue their protests in the lead-up to the anniversary date.

Although the renewal of dialogue has been cautiously welcomed, figures from across the political spectrum have expressed concerns about the agenda for the discussions, which has yet to be agreed upon.

Al Wefaq had called for greater clarity on the topics and the organisation of the talks to "promote an atmosphere of political trust", according to a statement from the group on February 6. In recent weeks, the opposition alliance has argued that the country should move towards greater political change, including a transitional government.

"The demands of the Bahraini people are very clear and any cosmetic dialogue or measures that do not result in a radical reshaping of the political ruling system in Bahrain will not achieve sustainable stability," the alliance said on Friday.

The National Coalition alliance, meanwhile, has also expressed concerns about the ambiguity of the agenda.

Mr Abdulrahman said that setting an agenda would be the first priority for talks.

"The first session will be dedicated to agree on the agenda and topics," he said, adding that there was no fixed timeline for the discussions.

"We don't want the time to be a factor against the participants; therefore the participants will determine how long they will need to reach consensus."