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Middle East
Bahraini opposition to enter talks
Groups in Gulf country accept royal family's offer for dialogue, as Sunnis and Shias clash south of Manama.
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2011 01:49 GMT
The clash between Shias and Sunnis was the first such direct confrontation since protests began [Reuters]

Opposition groups in Bahrain say they are prepared to accept the ruling family's offer of entering into a dialogue to address their political greivances, after weeks of protests in the country.

Abdul Jalil Khalil, a senior leader of the Shia opposition, said on Thursday the monarchy's opponents are now ready to accept an offer that was made by the crown-prince.

"We will talk to the crown prince, but we are not going to sit together for a casual chat, but for a meaningful dialogue only," said Khalil, a leader of Bahrain's main oppostion Al Wefaq bloc.

Khalil said no date had been set for the talks, which will be held with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa.

Meanwhile, a mass rally outside the government headquarters in the capital, Manama, has been scheduled for Friday.

Both pro- and anti-government demonstrations took place in Bahrain on Thursday.

Conditions for talks

Six opposition groups have set conditions for the dialogue, which have been received by the Crown Prince, the government confirmed. A government statement said that despite "substantial differences between the various groups and parties", a "political consensus" must be reached.

The conditions include the abolition of the 2002 constitution and "the election of a constitutional assembly for drafting a new basic law" for the country, an opposition spokesman told media earlier on Thursday.

The opposition wants citizens to be able to "elect a parliament with full legislative powers".

The final condition is that the outcomes of the dialogue are guaranteed to be "applied and respected".

One of the other major discussion points during talks will be the opposition's earlier stated demand that the current government be replaced in response to the killing of protesters who turned out in mass demonstrations which began on February 14.

"This government has to resign because it has committed illegal acts and violated human rights," said Ali Salman, the leader of the Al Wefaq movement. "We want a government of quality, an elected government and not a government stained with blood."

Earlier attempts at talks with the ruling party had been rejected by the opposition, who said this key demand must be met and that the ruling family should apologise for the killings.

On Wednesday night, Sheikh Abdel Latif al-Mahmud, a Sunni cleric, told a pro-government rally that a national dialogue should begin soon, but that it should take place without any preconditions and that the current government should remain in place.

Currently, only one house of Bahrain's parliament is elected, but it holds limited authority, and its status is in limbo after 18 Al Wefaq lawmakers walked out of the 40-member body in protest against the killing of protesters.

Clashes south of Manama

Meanwhile, clashes were reported late on Thursday night between Sunnis and Shias in Hamad, where Shias reportedly confronted a group of Sunnis who they said were of Syrian descent and had been given citizenship in order to boost the numbers of the minority Sunnis, the sect to which the ruling family belongs.

Police helicopters circled overhead, and two ambulances rushed to the scene.

Youths with sticks and batons were seen leaving the area after the police arrived on the scene.

Source:
Agencies
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