Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Protests in Bahrain

Protesters Occupy Bahrain Square

Anti-government protests continue in tiny kingdom, despite apology by king for the deaths of two demonstrators.

Al Jazeera
16 February 2011

Anti-government protesters are continuing to occupy a square in Bahrain's capital, Manama, after two days of violent clashes left at least two demonstrators dead.

The protesters, seeking political reforms and better human rights in the kingdom, are refusing to disperse, despite a rare apology from the king over the deaths in police firing.

An Al Jazeera correspondent in Bahrain, who cannot be named for his own safety, said that thousands of protesters were occupying a major landmark on Wednesday morning.

"They are well organised and say that they will make Manama's Pearl Roundabout Bahrain's version of Egypt's Tahrir Square."

Our correspondent said that some of the protesters were planning a march from the roundabout, while others planned to remain and keep it occupied.

Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa made a rare television appearance on Tuesday in which he expressed his condolences for "the deaths of two of our dear sons" and said a committee would investigate the killings.

"We will ask legislators to look into this issue and suggest needed laws to resolve it," he said, adding that peaceful protests were legal.

US concerned

The US said it was "very concerned" by recent violence in protests in Bahrain, a close ally of Washington, and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

"The United States is very concerned by recent violence surrounding protests in Bahrain," PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said in a statement. "We also call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence."

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the tiny kingdom since Monday, inspired by the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

One person was killed on Tuesday when police opened fire on a group of protesters holding a funeral procession for a man killed during protests a day earlier.

The victim, Fadhel Ali Almatrook, was hit with bird-shotgun, Maryam Alkhawaja, head of foreign relations at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera.

"Thousands of people marched in the streets, demanding the removal of the regime but the police fired tear gas and bird shot, using excessive force - that is why people got hurt," Alkhawaja said.

'Police brutality'

At least 25 people were reported to have been treated for injuries in hospital.

The crowds chanted "The people demand the fall of the regime!" as they poured into Manama's Pearl Roundabout after marching from the funeral on the city's outskirts.

Al Jazeera's correspondent said that police took a very heavy-handed approach towards the protesters.

"Police fired on the protesters this morning, but they showed very strong resistance," our correspondent said.

"It seems like the funeral procession was allowed to continue, but police were playing a cat-and-mouse game with the protesters."

Opposition suspension

Angered by the two deaths, al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shia Muslim opposition group, announced it was suspending its participation in parliament.

"This is the first step. We want to see dialogue," Ibrahim Mattar, an al-Wefaq parliamentarian, said. "In the coming days, we are either going to resign from the council or continue."

Al-Wefaq has a strong presence inside the parliament and within the Shia community.

The protesters say their main demand is the resignation of Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the prime minister, who has governed Bahrain since its independence in 1971.

An uncle of the king, he is seen as a symbol of the wealth of the ruling family.

The protesters say they are also demanding the release of political prisoners, which the government has promised, and the creation of a new constitution.

Shias, thought to be in the majority in Bahrain, are ruled by a Sunni royal family.

Poverty, high unemployment and alleged attempts by the state to grant citizenship to Sunni foreigners to change the demographic balance have intensified discontent among the Shias.

Around half of the kingdom's 1.3 million people are Bahraini, with the rest being foreign workers.

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