Bahrain Crown Prince calls for talks with opposition

Sat Dec 8, 2012 6:34am EST
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By Angus McDowall

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's Crown Prince called for dialogue with the country's opposition to break a deadlock in the restive Gulf Arab state, an appeal met with skepticism by rights activists.

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

Protesters and police clash almost daily and the island has seen bombings this year. Demonstrations are banned.

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.

"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 late on Friday in an address to a conference on Middle East security organized by the International Institute for Security Studies.

No opposition figures were invited to the conference.

"We know dialogue would help solve the problems in Bahrain, but we don't see any positive messages from the authorities," said Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

"The repression is ongoing, people are facing unfair trials, activists are in jail... You have to ask - if he is serious, why doesn't he make this address at a national level? It's just propaganda by the authorities," he said.   Continued...

Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa speaks at the opening ceremony of the 8th International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) Regional Security Summit, the Manama Dialogue, in Manama, December 7, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed