Manama: Bahrain’s eighth round of national talks to help heal the wounds that have scarred the nation will be held on Sunday evening among concerns that the dialogue is turning into a maelstrom of deep mistrust.
Two political blocs representing the opposition and Al Fateh, the parliament and the government have been sitting together since February 10 to help charter a plan that will initially rebuild confidence among the various communities and help the country end a political deadlock.
However, more than one month into the talks, no agenda has been set and accusations of lack of cooperation, mainly through the media, have become the main headlines.
“Every time we think we have made a small step forward, we are taken back to the start,” Ahmad Juma, the spokesperson for Al Fateh alliance, an umbrella for ten political societies, said. “We were hoping that the initial agreements augured for the real start of the talk under the watchful and expecting eyes of Bahrainis, but we have not moved forward,” Juma said.
Al Fateh has charged that the coalition of the opposition was not helping with the dialogue by insisting on issues that had been settled, mainly whom the participants represented.
However, the opposition said that there had been no final agreement on the format of the dialogue, giving it and the other participants the right to add new items.
“We will submit new ideas as we meet on Sunday,” Jameel Kadhem, the spokesperson for the coalition of the opposition, said amid reports that the opposition would press for the release of prisoners as a goodwill gesture that will help the dialogue. “We will also insist on a representative of the king at the talks.”
Jameel rejected the accusations his coalition was stalling the dialogue by setting pre-conditions
“If the other participants have interpreted our proposals as pre-conditions, then they too had set pre-conditions by for instance insisting that the results of the talks be referred to the existing constitutional institutions,” he said.
The opposition wants the outcome to be put to a referendum, but Al Fateh coalition said it refused to sidestep the parliament elected by the people.
The round will be the first since Bahrain went through a difficult weekend marred by clashes between rioters and the police and attempts by demonstrators on Thursday to bring life to standstill to mark the second anniversary of the arrival of troops from the Peninsula Shield, the military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into Bahrain, to help restore calm.
Education officials said that several schools were attacked on Thursday and their gates locked with chains to prevent students from attending classes while the police reported that roads were blocked with lampposts and cars and tyres were set ablaze to disrupt traffic. Several policemen were injured in the clashes.
The opposition reported that the police used tear gas mainly in villages to prevent demonstrations.
The events could cast gloomy shadows on the talks at the opulent Al Areen Hotel in southern Bahrain.
“We are pondering raising the issue of the street violence and the need to issue a condemnation by all participants of what happened on Thursday,” Juma said.