The head of the Nationalist Democratic Rally, Rasul al-Jashi, said a primary concern was the issue of the constitution.

"We now know how right and important were the decisions that we took in our first conference, given the strong pressures and illegal threats exerted on the four associations," he said at the opening of the conference. 

Al-Jashi said the groups had faced "threats to dissolve them," after issuing a popular petition that demanded constitutional amendments and which "has gathered 75,000 signatures so far".

Constitutional amendments wanted

Bahrain has a total population of just 650,000 people. The petition, launched at last year's conference, called for constitutional amendments while stressing a commitment to keeping Bahrain a constitutional monarchy. 

"We chose to address the petition to his majesty the king because the constitution ... grants the king the prerogative to carry out constitutional reforms" 

Shaikh Ali Salman,
President of the Islamic National Accord

But national newspapers recently said the Bahraini Royal Court had refused to accept the petition which the associations tried to present to King Hamad a few days ago. 

Shaikh Ali Salman, president of the Islamic National Accord Association, said: "We chose to address the petition to his majesty the king because the constitution ... grants the king the prerogative to carry out constitutional reforms." 

He was referring to a recent declaration by the minister for royal court affairs who said the four associations should address their demands to parliament, instead of the king. 

The four groups which organised the conference are the leftist National Democratic Action Association, the Islamic National Accord Association, the Nationalist Democratic Rally and the Islamic Action Association - a Shia grouping.