Bahrain's king offers July reform talks

Reuters News
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Posted: May 31, 2011 4:42 PM
Bahrain's king offers July reform talks

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa called for talks on reform involving all parties in the Gulf Arab state "without preconditions" from July 1, the state news agency said on Tuesday.

The offer comes as the government prepares on Wednesday to lift a state of emergency imposed in March to restore order and break up a pro-democracy protest movement following uprisings that brought down veteran rulers in Egypt and Tunisia.

"The king called on everyone to take part...to push forward reform for development in all areas and to firmly anchor the bases of the reform process," the Bahrain News Agency said.

It quoted the king as saying the talks would be "comprehensive, serious and without preconditions."

Bahrain called on Gulf Arab forces to help break up the protests in March, and has said the Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces will remain the country indefinitely to help face a perceived threat from Shi'ite power Iran.

Bahrain says Iran was behind the protest movement, which was dominated by majority Shi'ites.

The authorities unleashed a campaign of detention and dismissals during martial law that has affected thousands of people who took part, mainly Shi'ites.

Dozens of Shi'ite places of worship have also been demolished and four people have died in custody.

Twenty-one opposition figures -- seven of whom are abroad -- are on military trial on charges of seeking to overthrow the system. Rights activists say they were tortured.

U.S. President Barack Obama criticized the crackdown in a speech this month saying the government should begin dialogue with peaceful opposition leaders.

The king praised the National Unity Rally in the speech before a gathering of Bahraini journalists. The rally is a government-backed Sunni group that emerged during the unrest as a counterweight to Shi'ite opposition groups.

The government had threatened to close down Shi'ite group Wefaq, the largest opposition party. No Wefaq leaders are detained or face trial.

"Reform is the project that we have not and will not flinch from, it is the faith and the will between us and the people," the king said.

"Who does not want more efficient government performance? Who does not want more effective legislative representation? Or political associations and civil society groups that work in the framework of national unity and the rule of law?"

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Reed Stevenson and Michael Roddy)