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Bahrain’s opposition societies set terms for talks

Government says talks are serious, insists on coordination role

Gulf News

Manama: Bahrain’s opposition societies said that they have agreed to take part in a national dialogue that is expected to help end a political deadlock.

However, the Al Wefaq Islamic Society, the National Action Democratic Society, the Democratic Nationalist Rally Society, the Unionist Democratic National Rally Society, the Progressive Democratic Tribune and the National Brotherhood Society — in a letter addressed to the justice minister — set their own terms for the talks and insisted on the participation of representatives from the government as interlocutors.

Last week, Samira Rajab, the State Minister for Information Affairs and the official spokesperson for the government, said that the government would oversee and coordinate the dialogue but not participate in it.

In announcing the “resumption of the national dialogue”, the government said that the talks would be on political issues, implying that the non-political issues had been addressed at the national dialogue held in July 2011 when around 300 representatives from NGOs, trade unions, parliament, government, media and women’s rights groups convened and agreed on a series of recommendations.

On Wednesday, the justice ministry said that it contacted the country’s political formations to nominate their representatives to the dialogue and expected them to provide the names this week.

However, the opposition societies did not give any names and insisted that a specific timeframe for the start and end of the talks should be announced.

The number of representatives from the opposition should equal that of the government and the outcome of the dialogue should be specific constitutional formulas and not recommendations, the societies said.

However, Samira Rajab in remarks published by the London-based Al Sharq Al Awsat on Tuesday said that the government was serious about the talks and insisted on the role of the parliament in endorsing the outcome of the dialogue.

“The implementation of the dialogue recommendations will be similar to what happened after the earlier talks,” she said, referring to the July 2011 dialogue. “The implementation will be through the constitutional institutions which cannot, in any way, be cancelled, ignored or marginalised.”

On Sunday evening, ten political societies, representing the rest of the political landscape in Bahrain, said that they would take part in the dialogue, but called for an end to the acts of street violence to help create a more auspicious setting for the talks.

The sharp divergences between the various political factions reflect the formidable difficulties Bahrain is facing as it tries to bridge gaps and charter a new way forward for the country following the worst crisis in its modern history.