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Bahrain Crown Prince calls for new dialogue with opposition

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sat, 8 Dec 2012 07:35 AM
Author: Reuters
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MANAMA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Bahrain's Crown Prince renewed calls for dialogue with the country's opposition late on Friday, saying only talks could break a deadlock in the Gulf Arab state beset by unrest.

The ruling Al-Khalifa family, who are Sunni Muslims, used martial law and help from Gulf neighbours to put down a revolt against alleged discrimination of Bahrain's majority Shi'ite population in March last year, but violence has resumed.

Protesters and police clash almost daily and the island has seen a number of bombings this year.

Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifah, who was seen as losing influence to hardliners in the ruling family during mass protests last year, said Bahrain must continue political and judicial reforms seen as inadequate by the opposition.

"I soon hope to see a meeting between all sides - and I call for a meeting between all sides - as I believe that only through face to face dialogue will any real progress be made," he said in an address to a conference organised by the International Institute for Security Studies.

No opposition figures were invited to the conference.

Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based as a bulwark against Iran, accuses Tehran of encouraging the unrest and has promised a tough response as talks with the opposition have stalled. Iran has denied meddling in Bahrain's affairs.

A peaceful protest by the Wefaq opposition group took place in Manama earlier on Friday despite a ban on demonstrations in the kingdom.

Crown Prince Salman urged all political figures to condemn street violence but also said the government needed to push harder to reduce inequality.

"We must do more to change laws which still can lead to, in my opinion, judgements which go against protections guaranteed in our constitution. We must do more to stop the selective enforcement of law," he said.

The speech was heard by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, U.S. Assistant Secretary for State William Burns and the foreign ministers of other Gulf Arab states.

Crown Prince Salman singled out Britain for particular praise for its support for Bahrain during its crisis but did not mention the United States in what delegates present at the conference saw as implied criticism of Washington.

"You have stood head and shoulders above others," he said of the British government, which he praised for engaging with both the Bahraini government and opposition and aiding reform of the police and judiciary.

Last month, Bahrain's government said it had arrested four suspects in multiple bombings that killed two people in the capital Manama, and it accused the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah of being behind the attacks.

The five home-made bombs bore the hallmarks of Hezbollah, the Shi'ite group allied with Iran, authorities said. Hezbollah has previously denied interfering in Bahrain. (Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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