DUBAI Feb 5 Bahrain will begin reconciliation
talks on Sunday with opposition groups, the government said on
Tuesday, in an effort to end nearly two years of strife over
demands for more democracy in the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state.
Opposition groups contacted by Reuters suggested they would
attend the talks but cited differences with the government over
the goal of the dialogue that could undermine its effectiveness.
The small island kingdom, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is
based as a bulwark against Iran, has been in ferment since
protests erupted in early 2011 led by majority Shi'ite Muslims
demanding a constitutional monarchy with an elected government.
The talks are seen as crucial to restoring stability to the
oil-producing kingdom neighbouring oil superpower Saudi Arabia.
Bahraini officials said invitations would be issued later in
the day to about 17 pro-government and opposition groups and
delegates from the two houses of parliament to attend the talks
starting on Feb. 10.
"We have every intention to make this dialogue a success,"
Information Affairs Minister Samira Rajab told Reuters. "The
onus is on the other parties and their seriousness in pursuing
Khalil al-Marzouq, a senior official in the main opposition
group Wefaq, said his and other dissident groups were at odds
with the government over the aims and mechanism of the talks.
He said that opposition leaders wanted representatives of
the ruling Al Khalifa family to participate and had also
requested unspecified international experts to attend.
The government had either rejected these demands or sought
to defer them for discussion at the talks, he said.
"We want a real dialogue, serious negotiations on a
mechanism that will restore powers to the people and turn
Bahrain into a constitutional monarchy," Marzouq said.
Bahraini officials say the kingdom has introduced major
reforms since the Sunni Muslim-led authorities imposed temporary
martial law to help crush major pro-democracy unrest inspired by
Arab Spring demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt.
The reforms, part of wider constitutional changes announced
by King Hamad in January 2012, boost parliament's powers to
question and remove ministers and to withdraw confidence in the
The opposition says the reforms are cosmetic because they do
not challenge the royal family's monopoly on ultimate power, and
smaller scale protests have continued.
Shi'ite Muslims complain of discrimination in the electoral
system, jobs, housing, education and government departments. The
government denies discriminating against anyone.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)