MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain's king has appointed his heir to an additional role overseeing government affairs in an apparent gesture to opposition groups that have led more than two years of protests in the Gulf nation.
Monday's announcement by the official Bahrain News Agency said that Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa will have the added portfolio of first deputy premier to monitor the performance of top offices in the strategic kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The move by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa could be an effort to accelerate the slow-moving talks between Shiite-led opposition groups and envoys from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy. The crown prince is seen as more receptive to political compromises than others in Bahrain's ruling family, which has waged withering crackdowns on protesters, mainly Shiites calling for a greater political voice.
More than 60 people have been killed in the Arab Spring-inspired unrest, but some activists place the death toll higher.
The largest Shiite political group, Al Wefaq, said it welcomes the move and hoped it would "reflect in a positive way on the dialogue process." But Al Wedfaq said it still wants to have senior government posts decided through elections rather than appointments by the monarch.
The government has also been cracking down on social media sites that have served as primary news outlets since authorities have blocked many international journalists from entering Bahrain. But there were signs on Monday that the campaign could be easing.
On Monday, the acting president of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, Yousef al-Muhafedha, was found not guilty of posting inaccurate Twitter messages about some anti-government protests, said his lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi.
It was the third time a court dismissed cyber-related charges, indicating a possible softening of an Internet crackdown in the Sunni-ruled Gulf nation.
Al-Muhafedha was detained for two months before being released on bail in January. He is one of dozens in Bahrain who faced charges for posting messages on social media.