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Sun 27 Mar 2011 11:23 AM

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Bahrain opposition accepts Kuwait's offer to mediate

Wefaq welcomes Kuwaiti initiative to mediate in crisis; Bahrain eases curfew by one hour

Bahrain opposition accepts Kuwait's offer to mediate
BAHRAIN PROTESTS: Bahrains largest Shiite opposition group Wefaq has accepted Kuwaits offer to mediate in talks with Bahrains government to end a political crisis gripping the tiny kingdom

Bahrain's
largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq has accepted Kuwait's offer to mediate
in talks with Bahrain's government to end a political crisis gripping the tiny
kingdom, a member of Wefaq said on Sunday.

Bahrain on
March 16 ended weeks of protests by mostly Shi'ite protesters that had prompted
the king to impose martial law and call in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled
neighbours.

Jasim
Husain, a member of Wefaq, said Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah
has offered to mediate between Bahrain's Sunni al-Khalifa ruling family and
Shi'ite opposition groups.

"We
welcome the idea of bringing in an outside element," Husain said.

He said that
Wefaq's had no conditions for entering mediation talks but the presence of
foreign troops in Bahrain would be a thorny matter in the discussions.

Wefaq and
its six allies said last week they would not enter talks offered by Bahrain's
Crown Prince unless the government pulled troops off the streets and freed
prisoners.

Husain said
talks must be based on issues outlined by Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman
bin Hamad al-Khalifa before Gulf state troops entered Bahrain. These include an
elected government and reform of electoral districts that the opposition says
were cut to ensure a Sunni majority in parliament.

"The
fear is that the results [of mediation] may not be acceptable to the opposition
or that they can't be sold to the public," said Husain.

Sunni-led
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Bahrain's ruling family
as a bulwark against regional Shi'ite power Iran, have sent troops to Bahrain
to help it quell weeks of unrest following pro-democracy protests.

Kuwait,
which has a Shi'ite minority of its own, has sent navy vessels to Bahrain under
a Gulf security pact to patrol its Northern coast line.

Wefaq and
its allies also want an elected council to redraft the constitution, a demand
over which preliminary talks with Khalifa collapsed shortly before Gulf troops
arrived and Bahrain drove protesters off the streets and banned public
gatherings.

More than 60
percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites, and most are campaigning for a
constitutional monarchy, but calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the
monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest serves Iran, separated from
Bahrain by just a short stretch of Gulf waters.

The ferocity
of the government crackdown has stunned Bahrain's majority Shi'ites and angered
Iran.

A Wefaq
delegation is set to meet Kuwaiti politicians including Parliament Speaker
Jassem al-Kharafi, Kuwaiti daily al-Seyassah said on Sunday citing unnamed
political sources.

Ali
al-Matrook, a Kuwaiti Shi'ite businessman is one of the Kuwaiti mediators,
Wefaq's Husain said.

Bahrain cut
curfew times again, by an hour, on Sunday. From Seef Mall through the financial
district to the diplomatic area the curfew now runs from 11 p.m. (0200 GMT) to
4 a.m. (0700 GMT), cut gradually from 12 hours when it was first imposed.

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