Bahrain’s crown prince has renewed calls for dialogue with the country’s opposition, saying only talks can break a deadlock in the Gulf Arab state beset by unrest.
The ruling Al Khalifa family, who are Sunni Muslims, used martial law and help from Gulf neighbours to put down a revolt against alleged discrimination of Bahrain’s majority Shia population in March last year, but violence has resumed.
Salman bin Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa said late on Friday that Bahrain should continue political and judicial reforms seen as inadequate by the opposition.
“I soon hope to see a meeting between all sides, and I call for a meeting between all sides, as I believe that only through face to face dialogue will any real progress be made,” he said in an address to a conference organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
No opposition figures were invited to the conference.
However, the opposition, led by the main Shia Muslim group, Al-Wefaq, said it “looks favourably upon the appeal by the crown prince”, and urged “a serious dialogue with agreement on the participants, agenda and duration”.
It said: “The opposition is ready to take part in a dialogue whose result must be put to the people, the source of all powers. From the very beginning, the opposition has opted for peaceful means to gain democracy.”
Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based as a bulwark against Iran, accuses Tehran of encouraging the unrest and has promised a tough response as talks with the opposition have stalled. Iran has denied meddling in Bahrain’s affairs.
A peaceful protest by the Wefaq took place in Manama earlier on Friday despite a ban on demonstrations in the kingdom.
‘Must do more’
Salman urged all political figures to condemn street violence but also said the government needed to push harder to reduce inequality.
“We must do more to change laws which still can lead to, in my opinion, judgements which go against protections guaranteed in our constitution. We must do more to stop the selective enforcement of law,” he said.
He also appealed to Bahrain’s Shia religious leaders, telling them they must more forcefully denounce violence as a key step to ease the tense situation in the country.
“I call on all those who disagree with the government, including the ayatollahs, to condemn violence on the street unequivocally. And more, to prohibit violence,” he said.
The speech was heard by William Hague, UK foreign secretary; William Burns, US assistant secretary for state; and the foreign ministers of other Gulf Arab states.
Crown Prince Salman singled out Britain for particular praise for its support for Bahrain during its crisis, but did not mention the US in what delegates present at the conference saw as implied criticism of the country.
“You have stood head and shoulders above others,” he said of the British government, which he praised for engaging with both the Bahraini government and opposition and aiding reform of the police and judiciary.