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MANAMA: Bahrain’s government and opposition held reconciliation talks yesterday for the first time since July 2011 to try to end two years of political deadlock in the kingdom.
While opposition members have expressed very cautious optimism that the talks represent a meaningful step forward, they have also voiced concerns that the agenda remains unclear.
Negotiators for the six opposition parties said as they were leaving yesterday’s session that they would continue the dialogue, at least until the next meeting on Wednesday, but that they would meet today to discuss the way forward.
The sides have still to agree on the agenda and schedule, although they have decided to limit the scope of discussions to resolving political differences, and to meet twice a week while talks continue.
Opposition negotiator Abdulnabi Salman, from the Democratic Progressive Tribune group, said after the session: “So far so good, and we will continue for the next session, but there is no guarantee that we will continue forever.”
Asked if he thought government negotiators had showed they were serious, Salman said: “Not yet. For me they didn’t show us that ... But they showed us that they can listen to us, which is a positive step.”
The opposition Wefaq movement has commanded nearly half the electorate in past parliamentary votes but the government has refused to budge on opposition demands to give the elected chamber of parliament the power to form cabinets.
Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al Khalifa said that the session had been a positive start. The opposition walked away from reconciliation talks in July 2011, saying they were not carried out fairly. Yesterday’s dialogue session included the justice minister, the education minister and the works minister.
Of the 24 other participants, eight are from the opposition, eight from pro-government parties and eight from Bahrain’s national assembly, made up of the appointed Shura Council and an elected chamber.
“The issue in this country is between the government and the opposition. They are the real stakeholders. But there are lots of others who will sit around the table,” said Jasim Husain, a former Wefaq member of parliament.
The opposition has said that its main conditions for continuing the talks are that ruling family members attend, that the talks bring about decisions rather than recommendations, and that the result is put to a public referendum.