Bahrain king calls for new talks

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iol news pic bahrain protest 1 REUTERS File picture - A protester shouts anti-government slogans as she holds a banner saying ''Freedom is bullet-proof'' during an anti-government march in downtown Manama. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Dubai - Bahrain's King Hamad has called for a new round of national dialogue, previously shunned by the Shiite-led opposition, the government's Information Affairs Authority said.

King Hamad's call follows last month's plea for dialogue made by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, as protests continue in the Shiite-majority kingdom despite a heavy-handed crackdown on demonstrations in March 2011.

Following directives by King Hamad, Justice Minister sheikh Khalid bin Ali Al-Khalifa invited “representatives of the political societies and independent members of the political community in Bahrain to resume political discussions,” the Information Affairs Authority said late Monday.

It said the topics for the dialogue “will be those pending issues to be agreed upon, aiming to achieve further consensus around the political agenda”.

The opposition has repeatedly said it was ready for a meaningful dialogue, but has stuck to its demands for a real constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister in Bahrain.

Al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition formation, said in December it was ready for dialogue, but it had pulled out of the earlier July 2011 round of such discussions.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the main opposition groups including Al-Wefaq “welcomed” the new call for dialogue.

They stressed their “willingness to participate... in serious political negotiations that meet the aspirations of the people for freedom, dignity and justice.”

But first of all there had to be agreement on the participants at the talks, as well as their agenda and timetable, said the statement, also calling for a referendum on the results or the creation of a constitutional court.

Bahrain has been shaken by unrest since its forces in mid-March 2011 crushed a month of popular Shiite-led protests demanding greater rights and an end to what they said was discrimination by the Sunni royals.

The International Federation for Human Rights says 80 people have been killed since the start of the Arab Spring-inspired uprising on February 14, 2011. - Sapa-AFP

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