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Bahrain opposition draws up roadmap for national dialogue
Published Sunday 09/02/2014 (updated) 10/02/2014 11:16
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A Bahraini woman holds a national flag during an anti-government
protest in the village of Aali, south of the capital Manama, on
Feb. 7, 2014 (AFP/File Mohammed al-Shaikh)
DUBAI (AFP) -- Bahrain's opposition unveiled Saturday a roadmap for restarting national dialogue talks suspended last month, and renewed demands for a constitutional monarchy in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The proposals were published on the eve of the third anniversary of protests against the government that erupted on Feb. 14, 2011, and which have left Bahrain politically deadlocked since.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa met opposition leaders in mid-January to try revive the national dialogue days after the government suspended the talks which had opened a year ago.

The reconciliation talks, which the main Shiite opposition had boycotted, are designed to bring the Sunni-ruled country with a Shiite majority of its political crisis.

The opposition, led by the main movement Al-Wefaq, urged authorities to free "prisoners of conscience" as well as "suspend political processes" and stop "incitement to sectarian hatred."

In a statement published by Al-Wefaq and detailing the roadmap to restart the dialogue, the opposition said it was ready for "three meetings a week" to speed up reconciliation talks, and that their conclusions should be put to the vote in a referendum.

But it also called for the development of a new electoral code for a "fair and transparent (ballot), supervised by an independent electoral commission as well as delimitation of boundaries that "guarantee equality between citizens."

Besides a parliament with "full legislative powers" and an "elected government," the Shiite opposition also wants the national dialogue to include talks on reforming the judiciary and to put an end to the policy of naturalizing foreigners, to which the Shiite opposition is strongly opposed.

The roadmap also vows to "denounce violence from any quarter," a way of assuaging the kingdom's authorities, who have accused the opposition of being behind the intermittent violence that has hit the Gulf state since February 2011.

In the roadmap, which Al-Wefaq said was submitted Wednesday to the royal court, the opposition stressed its "concern to cooperate and to agree with other political forces to reach a consensus" on ending the crisis.

After a first session of talks failed in July 2011, the national dialogue resumed in February 2013, only to be suspended by the government on Jan. 9.

But five groups including Al-Wefaq had already pulled out of the talks in September after prominent Shiite ex-MP Khalil Marzooq was arrested on charges of inciting terrorism.

Arab Spring-inspired protests in February 2011 were met by a crackdown a month later, backed by Saudi-led Gulf forces that rolled into Bahrain in support of the Al-Khalifa dynasty.

At least 89 people have been killed since the protests began, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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