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Thu 24 Feb 2011 07:38 PM

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Bahrain activists push for opposition talks to commence

Activists say political prisoners’ pardon is a 'step in the right direction' by Gulf state

Bahrain activists push for opposition talks to commence
TALKS DEMANDED: Bahraini activists have demanded that talks with government officials commence (Getty Images)

Bahraini activists agitated for talks with officials to begin and said the government’s release of a group of political prisoners was “a step in the right direction”.

“It’s a good step because it’s one of the [protesters’] demands,” Bahraini activist Amal Fareed told Arabian Business.

It shows that officials “are trying to please the opposition. But I’m not sure how stubborn the opposition may be” in wanting to start talks only after the resignation of the much-reviled Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman, who has held the office since 1971.

On Wednesday, King Hamad pardoned and released 23 Shiite prisoners being held on charges of terrorism, setting off a wave of excitement in Manama.

Though it’s a step, “I don’t think they're willing to compromise. Last I heard the opposition was unwilling to meet before the government met demands of the parliament's resignation,” Fareed said.

The apparent victory comes on the heels of Saturday’s takeover of Pearl roundabout – the sight of several deadly skirmishes between protesters and government forces – in central Manama.

It was regarded as a major milestone in establishing a peaceful setting between the King’s officials and demonstrators who have been calling for his ouster.

It’s now imperative for dialogue to begin.

One protester in Pearl Square Saturday told Arabian Business that there was “no point” in having taken over the roundabout, in Manama’s downtown, if talks between the two sides didn’t begin soon.

Demonstrators have been peacefully camped out there since, many in tents.

“I’m not sure of yet if any dialogue has been implemented,” Fareed added. “If they don't start the dialogue the protests will go on and we don't know what will happen.”

As for this week’s cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Fareed said the economic ramifications wouldn’t bother the opposition.

The cancellation of the event – which nets Bahrain millions of dollars a year in tourist money and is one of the events that puts the tiny Gulf nation on the world map – might even be an impetus for the government to begin talks faster.

“People aren't thinking about it,” Fareed said of the cancellation. “Those benefitting from the race, let's face it, are not the [demonstrating] people. So I think it can be a good point of pressure in terms of meeting the demands and putting an end to the conflict that's going on.”