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DUBAI: Bahrain yesterday asked pro-democracy opposition parties to nominate delegates to prepare for talks to try to break nearly two years of political deadlock in the Gulf Arab state.
The small island state has been in turmoil since protests erupted in early 2011 led by majority Shias demanding an end to the Sunni-led monarchy’s political domination and full powers for parliament.
Thirty-five people died during the unrest and two months of martial law that followed, but the opposition says that number has risen to more than 80. The government rejects the figures.
A key ally of Washington, Bahrain is the base for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and has accused opposition groups of being linked to Shia power Iran.
Khalil Al Marzouq, a leader of the main opposition bloc Wefaq, said the Justice Ministry’s director general had contacted him and asked the opposition to nominate six representatives for the talks. “He was also getting in touch with other groups from the loyalist side,” Marzouq said. “They have started taking steps, but they are still very slow steps, and no one still has any picture of what is going to happen.” Though martial law has been lifted and Bahrain has introduced some reforms, the opposition the measures as cosmetic and smaller scale protests have continued.
The Justice Ministry said the first meetings would be to try to agree on an agenda for the talks, BNA news agency said, without giving any further details.
Information Minister Samira Rajab had earlier welcomed the opposition’s response to the invitation, made on Monday by the Justice Ministry on behalf of H M King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa, and said the government would ask all parties to name delegates to the talks, which she said could start soon. “All the steps will start. I think the time frame will go fast, as long as all the parties are willing to go through positive, very serious dialogue,” she said. She said the government would moderate the event, help set the agenda and implement any recommendations.Reuters