Talks are aimed at building consensus after two years of political crisis
By Mick O’Reilly, Senior Associate Editor
Manama: The fourth round of National Dialogue talks was scheduled to get under way in Al Areen late Sunday evening with two Bahraini political societies ending their token boycott of the sessions over continuing street violence.
The National Dialogue is the latest political initiative on building consensus in the country which was rocked by two years of violence and continuing protests.
The twice-weekly talks are trying to build a way forward between anti-government Shiites who are demanding greater political and social reforms from the government.
Wednesday’s session was boycotted by Al Menbar Islamic Society and Al Saaf Islamic Society, who wanted a written commitment from opposition representatives condemning street violence that has escalated since February 14, the second anniversary of an occupation by protesters of Pearl Roundabout in central Manama.
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Over the past week, a 16-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man died from injuries sustained in the violence, with scores of Bahraini police officers injured.
Over the weekend, doctors performed a complicated two-hour operation to remove a sharpened 15cm steel dart from the right eye of a police officer who was injured during rioting in Sanabis on Friday. The operation saved the Pakistani officer’s sight.
On Saturday, hundreds of police and security force officers fired tear gas and bird-shot rounds to break up widespread rioting after a series of illegal anti-government protests in Sanabis, Daih and Jedhafs.
Official numbers of the injured are hard to obtain as injured protesters refuse to attend medical centres, preferring instead to receive treatment when and where they can. It’s a practice that is alarming police, with Major General Tariq Al Hassan, head of Bahrain Police, saying the practice is dangerous.
“Whenever a person is seriously injured, it is vital that they receive proper professional medical care by trained paramedics at the scene,” he said in a statement. “If warranted, seriously injured persons should immediately be taken to a hospital where the individual will be treated in a sanitised environment. A delay in hospital can exacerbate injuries and cause death.”
Authorities say that the events surrounding the most recent death, that of 20-year-old plumber Mahmoud Eisa Mohammad from Daih, were complicated by his family taking the seriously injured man to hospital a full 24 hours after the injury was sustained during a violent street protest.
Two attempts to organise a funeral for Mohammad failed as his family dispute an official report into his death. And those two attempts at a funeral turned into illegal protest marches and then violent clashes between the marchers and police and security forces.
It’s against this violent backdrop that the talks in Al Areen are taking place, with real headway difficult to achieve. Sunday’s session, the fourth in the current round, is focused on trying to set the agenda for future sessions.
“Violence on the streets should stop as it is not right when all political parties are engaging in talks,” Dr Yousuf Mashal, a senior official in AL Saaf Islamic Society, said on Saturday.
But the National Dialogue talks mean little to those taking part in the illegal street protests.
“They are just window dressing,” Halawi Jamal told Gulf News. “It is an attempt to show the west that the government is doing something. The talks mean nothing, khalas.”