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Middle East
Bahrain to lift ban on major opposition party
Government "taking steps" to reinstate Waad party, but opposition officials remain sceptical of talks with Manama.
Last Modified: 18 Jun 2011 17:53
Bahrain, where opposition forces began protesting in February, is to allow a major opposition party to regroup [EPA]

Bahrain's government is preparing to lift a ban on the country's second largest opposition party, ahead of a national dialogue to ease the Gulf island kingdom's political crisis.

Radhi al-Mousawi, a spokesman for the National Democratic Action Society, or Waad, said on Saturday that the government would lift the ban on its headquarters in the capital, Manama, and later at its office in Muharraq.

The state news agency BNA confirmed the news, citing the justice ministry as saying steps were being taken to lift the ban.

Authorities shut down Waad in April amid a crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy protests.

Welcoming political dialogue

Mousawi said the group had sent a statement to the government welcoming the political dialogue, set by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to begin on July 1, and asked for the king to look into the case of Waad's detained leader.

Ibrahim Sharif is in prison along with several other opposition leaders, including Hassan Mushaimaa, the president of the Shia Islamist party al-Haq.

Both are among 21 people facing trial on charges of plotting a coup with backing from "foreign terrorist groups".

Bahrain's Sunni rulers have accused the protesters, backed mostly by Shia groups but also by the secular Waad party, of being backed by Iran. Opposition groups deny the charges.

Bahraini opposition activists said that Waad had been under pressure to welcome the national dialogue in return for an end to the ban.

Both Waad and Wefaq, the largest Shia opposition group, have stopped short of saying they will join the talks. Some Wefaq members have said they are wary of taking part because of reports that dozens of groups will be invited.

Diluting the opposition

Government supporters say groups that are not political parties should attend to represent Bahrainis who are not politicised.

The opposition argues it will dilute their voice in negotiations.

Sheikh Ali Salman, head of Wefaq, told crowds in a rally of more than 10,000 people on Friday that too many groups would "be a social gathering, not a political dialogue".

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain's crown prince, who led an earlier round of talks that failed just as the government began its crackdown, called on all citizens to work for dialogue.

Seen as a moderate in the ruling family, Sheikh Salman is the preferred choice of the opposition to lead talks.

The opposition has criticised the king's choice of the speaker of the state's lower parliament, who is seen as conservative on political reform.

Source:
Agencies
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