DUBAI Jan 26 Bahrain expects talks with the
opposition aimed at breaking nearly two years of political
deadlock to start next week or early in February, a cabinet
member said in comments published on Saturday.
The Gulf Arab state, a U.S. ally against Iran, has been in
turmoil since protests erupted in early 2011 led by majority
Shi'ite Muslims demanding an end to the Sunni-led monarchy's
political domination and full powers for parliament.
Wefaq and five other pro-democracy groups have said they are
ready to attend the talks but have demanded the government show
seriousness in addressing their demands, including for a
constitutional democracy with an elected government rather than
one appointed by the king.
Thirty-five people died during the unrest and two months of
martial law that followed, but the opposition says that number
has risen to more than 80. The government rejects the figure.
"The Information Affairs Minister Samira Rajab expected the
dialogue talks to start very soon ... by the end of this month
or early next month, at the latest," Bahrain's Arabic language
Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper said.
King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa called for the talks. Wefaq
withdrew from a previous attempt at dialogue in July 2011,
complaining there were too many hand-picked participants to
reach a meaningful consensus.
An ally of Washington, Bahrain is the base for the U.S.
Navy's Fifth Fleet and has accused opposition groups of being
linked to Shi'ite Muslim power Iran.
Martial law has been lifted and the government has
introduced some reforms but the opposition says the measures are
cosmetic and smaller scale protests have continued.
Shi'ite Muslims complain of discrimination in the electoral
system, jobs, housing, education and government departments.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)