Bahrain's main opposition groups ease demands

Wefaq calls for dialogue, urges release of activists; funerals of two protesters expected on Sunday
Bahrain's main opposition groups ease demands
Bahraini anti-government protesters spell out freedom using makeshift roadblocks in Manama on March 14, 2011
By Reuters
Sun 20 Mar 2011 12:24 PM

Bahrain's main opposition groups have eased their conditions for talks to
end a crisis that has drawn in neighbouring Gulf armies and raised tensions in
the oil exporting region.

The groups led by Bahrain's largest Shi'ite Muslim opposition party, Wefaq,
in a statement late on Saturday called on security forces to free all those
detained, end their crackdown and ask Gulf Arab troops to leave so talks could
begin.

"Prepare a healthy atmosphere for the start of political dialogue
between the opposition and the government on a basis that can put our country
on the track to real democracy and away from the abyss," it said.

The group retreated from much more ambitious conditions for talks it set
last week, including the creation of a new government not dominated by royals
and the establishment of a special elected council to redraft Bahrain's
constitution.

The new conditions, which also include ending sectarian rhetoric and
removing forces who have surrounded a major hospital in recent days, would
bring the political process back to the position it was in before the uprising
began a month ago.

Bahraini police and troops moved on Wednesday to end weeks of protests by
mainly Shi'ite demonstrators that prompted the king to declare martial law and
drew in troops from Bahrain's fellow Sunni-ruled neighbours.

The ferocity of the crackdown, in which troops and police fanned out across
Bahrain, imposed a curfew and banned all public gatherings and marches, has
stunned Bahrain's majority Shi'ites and angered the region's non-Arab Shi'ite
power, Iran.

More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites. 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
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain by only a short stretch of Gulf waters.

Shi'ite Muslim power Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq and
Lebanon, complained to the United Nations and asked other neighbours to join it
in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw.

Sunday was the first working day after a week that saw closures of schools
and universities to prevent outbreaks of sectarian clashes that had become
virtually a daily event.

In an effort to bring life back to normal, Bahrain's military rulers cut
back by four hours on Saturday a 12 hour curfew that had been imposed on large
areas of Manama.

The curfew now runs from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. from the Seef Mall area in Manama,
through the Pearl roundabout and the financial district to the diplomatic area.

Bahrain urged employees working in the public sector and both public and
private sector schools and universities to return to work after days of
closures and shortened hours.

State television also aimed to show viewers the island kingdom had returned
to normalcy, airing soap operas, documentaries and montages of expatriates
expressing relief at their regained sense of security in Bahrain.

Some of the larger malls have begun to reopen after days of closures and
there were fewer checkpoints in the streets, though helicopters still buzz over
Shi'ite areas.

Divisions run deeper than ever after the crackdown, however.

Bahrainis will bury on Sunday the third of the protesters killed in the
crackdown this week. The mourners at two funerals earlier this week were
defiant.

Shaking their fists and shouting "down with King Hamad", thousands
gathered at the burial of computer technician Ahmed Abdullah Ahsan in the
Shi'ite suburb of Diah on Saturday.

Three police and four protesters were killed in Wednesday's crackdown and
police have arrested at least nine opposition activists, including two
outspoken doctors.

Bahraini security forces detained overnight the outspoken head of the
country's main human rights group, Nabeel Rajab, his colleague said on Sunday,
but Twitter feeds later suggested he may have been released after questioning.

 

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