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Thu 3 Mar 2011 06:06 PM

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Bahrain opposition drops pre-conditions for talks

Bahrain opposition send a letter to the crown prince saying they want a new government and constitution

Bahrain opposition drops pre-conditions for talks
Bahraini Shiite Muslim women protest outside the Ministry of Interior in the capital Manama, on March 2, 2011, in a third week of anti-regime demonstrations. (AFP/Getty Images)

Bahraini opposition groups said

on Thursday they were now ready to enter into talks with the

government without pre-conditions, but have sent a letter to the

crown prince saying they want a new government and constitution.

The opposition groups, formed mainly of disgruntled majority

Shi'ite Muslims, have led large protests in the island kingdom

since last month, but had previously demanded a commitment by

the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family to democratic reforms before

entering talks.

The US-allied Sunni government has made some concessions

after ordering troops off the streets under international

pressure, but a formal political dialogue has not yet started.

Six political groups led by the main Shi'ite opposition

group Wefaq want the resignation of the cabinet, a new

constitution under which the government is elected and an

investigation into the actions of the security forces.

They also seek guarantees that peaceful protests can

continue and want state media give them more coverage.

"We would like to see a declaration at the beginning of the

talks stating that in principle they agree to abolishing the

2002 constitution and ... to having a parliament fully by the

people," Ibrahim Shareef of the secular Waad group told a news

conference in Manama.

Thousands of protesters who have been camped out in Manama's

Pearl Square want an end to al-Khalifa family rule altogether.

This week they have staged peaceful marches towards

government buildings around the capital such as the ministry of

interior and the financial centre where banks are located.

Bahrain, home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, is part of a

string of Sunni Gulf allies of the United States that counter

the regional influence of Shi'ite power Iran.

Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad has been charged by the

king with entering into dialogue on reforms.

Government supporters have also taken to the streets. Late

on Wednesday tens of thousands gathered at a mosque in Manama to

show their support for King Hamad bin Isa.

They say that political reforms launched by the king a

decade ago have resulted in freedoms and a level of democracy

unique in the Gulf Arab region.

Faisal Fulad from the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society,

who attended the pro-government gathering, said Sunni groups

want to be part of any political dialogue as well. "The red line

for them is the royal family," he said.

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