MANAMA: A senior Bahraini cleric said Friday that any dialogue between anti-government protesters and the kingdom’s rulers must lead to clear results that achieve the demands of the people.
Imam Isa Qassim issued the call for conditions to any talks as opposition supporters prepared to launch mass marches on the capital’s landmark Pearl Square, which has become the focal point of the political protests pushing for democratic change. Protesters hope to keep up the pressure on the Sunni monarchy that controls Bahrain, a key US ally in the Persian Gulf and home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
In a sermon at a Shia village mosque in the an anti-government hotbed of Diraz, Qassim called for talks that are "clear, comprehensive and productive." He said demonstrators want guarantees on what would be accomplished by the talks.
"We don’t want dialogue for the sake of dialogue, we don’t want dialogue to waste time or to absorb anger," Qassim told worshippers. "We want a meaningful, viable and sustainable process. … We seek a fundamental change to the current political process based on legitimate demands."
Bahrain’s Sunni rulers have offered to talk with Shia opposition groups to try to defuse the showdown, but the opposition has been slow to answer the call.
Shias account for about 70 percent of Bahraini’s 525,000 people, but have long complained of systematic discrimination and other abuses by the Sunni dynasty that has ruled for more than two centuries.
The opposition appears split in its aims, with some seeking greater democratic reforms, including the removal of the long-serving prime minister — the king’s uncle. Others, however, are demanding the ouster of the ruling regime altogether.
Scores of anti-government protesters knelt down under the hot midday sun for Friday prayers in Pearl Square in the capital Manama.
Surrounding them are dozens of tents and makeshift food stalls that have been set up by protesters intent on fortifying their position. A towering monument to Bahrain’s heritage as a pearl-diving center that dominates the square, and nearby walls have been spray-painted with anti-government graffiti — a rare site in the heavily policed Gulf.
An immense red-and-white Bahraini flag hoisted by a crane flutters over the square, which was the scene of violent clashes involving Bahraini security forces a week ago that left seven protesters dead.
The government declared Friday a day of mourning for those killed.