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A government spokeswoman said Thursday a prominent opposition leader will not be arrested if he returns to Bahrain, but it remained unclear whether he was free to travel.

The possible return of Hassan Meshaima after months of self-exile in London could mark a new phase for the protest movement as the Gulf island’s monarchy tries to open talks to end the most severe political crisis in decades in the strategic nation.

Security and judicial officials in Lebanon, however, said they have confiscated Meshaima’s passport on an Interpol warrant. Meshaima arrived in Beirut on Tuesday en route to Bahrain, where protests erupted last week inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Lebanese officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. It was unclear whether Bahrain will take steps to lift the international arrest warrant.

Meshaima, head of a Shiite group known as Haq, is considered more hard-line than the main Shiite political bloc that taken a lead among the protesters. The opposition currently appears divided on whether to demand the end to the Sunni monarchy or offer a chance to remain in exchange for giving powers to the elected parliament.

The government spokeswoman, Maysoon Sabkar, said that authorities have no plans to take Meshaima into custody if he returns.

Khalil Marzook, a senior member of Bahrain’s biggest Shiite opposition bloc, Al Wefaq, called on Bahrain’s government to lift the warrant.

Sabkar, the government spokeswoman, said that Friday has been declared an official day of mourning for seven demonstrators killed in clashes with security forces.

On Wednesday, Bahrain released at least 100 prisoners, including 23 Shiite activists on trial since last year for plotting against the state. Meshaima and other opposition figure were being tried in absentia.

The Canadian Press

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