The king of Bahrain named his son Crown Prince Salman, a reputed moderate, as deputy premier, on Monday, as a promised national dialogue stalled between the Gulf state's Sunni regime and its Shiite majority.
The main Shiite-led opposition group Wefaq gave the appointment a guarded welcome, saying it hoped it would clear the way for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister in place of the appointed incumbent, King Hamad's cousin, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.
The king said his son's appointment was aimed at "enhancing the performance of the executive arm" of the government in the face of the wave of unrest dogging the small but strategic archipelago since February 2011, the official BNA news agency said.
Prince Salman has repeatedly called for dialogue to resolve the political deadlock in the kingdom, which lies just across the Gulf from Iran and is home to the US Fifth Fleet.
The Shiite-led opposition said it was ready for meaningful talks, but has stuck to its demands for a constitutional monarchy with an elected premier.
"The political reforms that we want must result in an elected not an appointed prime minister," Wefaq said in a statement.
The incumbent has been in office since 1971 and is widely disliked by the Shiite majority.
Wefaq said it also wanted to see an end to corruption and discrimination against Shiites in civil service appointments.
A new round of talks between the opposition and the government began last month against the backdrop of daily protests launched around the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising that was put down by the army with support from neighbouring Gulf states.
But the dialogue has been dogged by disagreement as the opposition insists that representatives of the king, and not only the government, should take part.
Justice Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ali al-Khalifa said the two sides agreed in Sunday's session that any deal should be approved by the king but the opposition also wants it put to a referendum.
Protests among the Shiite majority rocked Bahrain in the 1990s. A new round of unrest erupted early last decade when reforms announced by King Hamad fell short of the full-blown constitutional monarchy demanded by Wefaq and other opposition groups.