Bahrain's king announced plans to release an unspecified number of political prisoners Monday in a move apparently aimed at appeasing an opposition movement that is pressing for reforms in this small Persian Gulf country.
In another development, exiled Shiite opposition figure Hassan Mushaima announced plans to return from London on Tuesday. It would be another test for authorities, who have a warrant outstanding for his arrest.
The monarchy says it wants to pursue a national dialogue in the aftermath of its decision last week to order security forces to open fire on anti-government demonstrators.
The demonstrators have mostly been Shiite Muslims, who are the majority in Bahrain and complain of discrimination by the Sunni Muslim royal family.
On Monday, a new movement called the National Unity Group also called for reforms. The movement, which has close ties to the government and Sunni community, positioned itself as an alternative to the popular protests centered in Pearl Square in Manama, the capital.
Protesters have demanded that all political prisoners be freed, the government be dissolved and the constitution be revised.
The king, Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa, said the release of the political prisoners was a direct result of a rally by the new organization. He did not say how many detainees were being freed.
Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group, acknowledged that the announcement of the release amounted to a concession. But it said it was insufficient to start negotiations with the government.
Wefaq officials said they doubted that the most high-profile detainees would be freed.