Bahrain opposition drops main demands for talks

Bahrainis will bury on Sunday the third of the protesters killed in the crackdown this week.

Bahrain opposition drops main demands for talks

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 demonstrators that prompted the king to declare martial law and drew in troops from Bahrain's fellow 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 hardliners call for the overthrow of the monarchy.

Back to work

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.


Last Mod: 20 Mart 2011, 10:55
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