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Bahrain Opposition Finalizing Demands

A Bahraini anti-government protester flashes a victory sign in front a Bahraini flag at the Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011.

Opposition leaders in Bahrain say they are finalizing a list of demands that they will present to the country’s leaders. It comes after Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa called for a national dialogue to help defuse ongoing political unrest in the Persian Gulf nation.

Opposition groups say they will not enter discussions until they are fully prepared. Items already on their agenda include transforming Bahrain into a constitutional democracy and releasing political prisoners.

Jasim Husain Ali, a senior member of Bahrain’s largest opposition party, al-Wefaq, says it is difficult to predict when talks between party leaders and the government might begin. "I think opposition groups have to work out strategies among themselves and they also have to meet with the 14th February movement, so they have to agree on different issues. So I think we’re talking about days before any announcement of the start of dialogue," he said.

Demonstrations inspired by recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have taken place in Bahrain since the country’s planned "Day of Rage" on February 14.

On Saturday, anti-government protesters stormed Manama’s Pearl Roundabout and reestablished a tent camp that had been destroyed in a deadly crackdown by security forces late last week.

The government later announced that the protestors would be allowed to stay at the site and reiterated a call for dialogue with all political parties.

Speaking at a late night rally in the roundabout on Sunday, al-Wafeq member Mohammed al-Muzal said he is confident that the protesters’ demands will be met. "I’m optimistic when I see the people and their peaceful protests. This is what makes me optimistic. Whether the government accepts it or not, this makes us all the time optimistic," he said.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa introduced democratic and social reforms in Bahrain a decade ago. But the majority of the country’s Shi’ite Muslims say they receive fewer benefits than the ruling Sunni minority.

Many Shi’ites also complain of a lack of jobs and accuse the government of naturalizing foreign Sunnis and giving them the top posts in the country.