Bahrain begins national dialogue after upheaval

July 2, 2011 23:58


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MANAMA - Talks between Bahrain's opposition and pro-government groups began on Saturday, aimed at healing deep rifts opened when the state's Sunni rulers crushed protests led by the majority Shi'ites earlier this year.

The opposition has expressed doubts about whether the national dialogue, decreed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, can accomplish anything, noting that it only has 35 of the 300 seats at the bargaining table.

Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Dhahrani, chairman of the dialogue and also a speaker of parliament, told the forum: "We start without conditions or limits, our only condition is accepting one another."

The government had sought to ease tensions before the start of the dialogue, offering concessions such as the launch of an investigative panel led by Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-American war crimes expert who is also heading a U.N. inquiry into events in Libya.

Bahrain's Shi'ites took to the streets in February and March to demand political reforms, inspired by uprisings that toppled the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

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