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Five-point offer to restart talks with Bahrain opposition

Crown prince unveils core elements for resumption of national dialogue, include redefinition of electoral districts and judicial reforms.

Bahrain’s authorities have offered a proposal to the Shiite opposition in a bid to jump start reconciliation talks that fell apart last year.

The proposal, unveiled on Thursday, has five core elements including the redefinition of electoral districts and parliament being permitted to question the premier and his ministers.

Parliament would also have a right of approval in the choice of ministers, and the authorities would commit to further judicial reform.

The security forces would also be bound by new codes of conduct.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad announced that the five main points had been discussed with various political groups, and were a “framework comprising areas of common ground”.

However, Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the main Shiite opposition grouping Al Wefaq, said the new proposal “ignores the legitimate demands of the people”.

He said the proposal failed to include the creation of an independent electoral commission, insisted on keeping an appointed consultative Shura Council alongside the elected parliament, as well as the king’s right to appoint the prime minister.

“The official position remains rigid,” the opposition chief said.

“The royal family retains all powers – executive, legislative and judicial, in addition to security, information and wealth,” Mr Salman said.

“The solution would be to give up this monopoly of all power and respect the will of the people.”

Bahrain’s opposition is demanding political reforms in the Shiite-majority but Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Since a month of protests was repressed in Bahrain in March 2011, the opposition has taken part in two rounds of national dialogue, but withdrew saying the authorities were not making enough concessions.

The opposition pulled out of the second round of dialogue in September last year after the second-highest ranking member of Al Wefaq, Khalil Al Marzouq, was arrested pending an investigation for allegedly inciting anti-government violence.

Mr Marzouq’s arrest came just days after several new regulations were imposed on political groups, including restrictions on contact with foreign diplomats and organisations.

The government officially suspended the second round of national reconciliation talks in January this year, 11 months after they resumed.

Mr Marzouq was released on bail last October his arrest and acquitted of the charges in June this year.

Also taking part in the talks were a coalition of opposition parties that holds eight seats in the negotiations, and an alliance of pro-government groups holds another eight.

Eight legislators were also at the table, as well as three government ministers.

Two independent moderators lead the discussions, and everything will be decided by consensus, rather than voting. For now, parties are focused on how the dialogue will function.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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