Last updated: 8 December, 2012

Bahrain opposition welcomes talks call

Bahrain’s Shiite opposition on Saturday welcomed a call for dialogue made by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, saying it was ready to talk in an effort to solve the Gulf kingdom’s political crisis.

The opposition, led by the main Shiite Al-Wefaq grouping, said it “looks favourably upon the appeal by the crown prince,” and urged “a serious dialogue with agreement on the participants, agenda and duration.”

“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.”

On Friday, Prince Salman, considered a moderate within the royal family, called on for dialogue with the mainly Shiite Muslim opposition in the Sunni-dominated country, urging them to condemn violence.

“We had our own experience of the so-called Arab Spring last year. It divided the nation, and many wounds are still to be healed,” the prince told delegates at the annual Manama Dialogue organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet and strategically situated across the Gulf from Shiite Iran, has experienced unrest since February 2011, when Arab Spring-style protests led by the Shiite majority erupted.

Hundreds of people were arrested when security forces aided by troops from neighbouring Saudi Arabia crushed the uprising within a month.

The International Federation for Human Rights says 80 people have died in Bahrain since the unrest began.

An international panel commissioned by King Hamad found that excessive force and torture had been used against protesters and detainees in last year’s clampdown.

On Friday, Salman said that security is not the only guarantor of stability, and that “dialogue is the only way forward.”

He said he was not the crown prince of a Sunni or a Shiite Bahrain, but of the kingdom of Bahrain.

But he said “opposition leaders must condemn violence on the streets. Silence is not an option,” while insisting that “political groups must be reconciled.”

Bahrain, ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, is the only Gulf monarchy where the majority of the population are Shiite Muslims.