Bahrainis Converge on Capital for Third Day of Protests
Source: World Bulletin
Protesters in Bahrain, inspired by revolts that have toppled Arab rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, poured into the Gulf island kingdom’s capital on Wednesday to mourn a demonstrator killed in clashes with security forces.
Over a thousand joined a funeral procession for the man, who was shot dead on Tuesday when fighting broke out at the burial of another protester. Some 2,000 were camped out at a major road junction in the centre of Manama, hoping to emulate the rallies on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanding a change of government.
The Interior Ministry has promised to take legal action over the two deaths if it finds police used “unjustifiable” force.
Bahrainis have a history of protest and the current unrest, in its third day, has been driven by familiar complaints of economic hardships, lack of political freedoms and sectarian discrimination.
“The people demand the fall of the regime!” protesters chanted as men pounded their chests in rhythm, a mourning gesture which is distinctive to the Shi’ite branch of Islam.
Though itself only a minor oil exporter, Bahrain’s stability is important for neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a key supporter of Bahrain’s royal family and where key oilfields are home to an oppressed and occasionally restive Shi’ite minority.
Bahrain is also a hub for banking and financial services in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
“King sorrow over deaths”
Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, has governed the Gulf Arab state since its independence in 1971.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa expressed sorrow over the deaths on Monday and Tuesday morning and ordered the formation of a committee to investigate them.
King Hamad offered in a televised address on Tuesday afternoon his condolences to the families of the victims.
The special committee will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Jawwad Al-Arayyedh and will determine the reasons behind the regretful incidents, the king said in his speech broadcast by Bahrain Television.
King Hamad said that he would ask Parliament to look into the events and recommend the necessary legislation to address the issue in the interest of the homeland
“We will request the legislative body to look into this phenomenon and to suggest proposals required to address it for the interest of the nation and citizens,” King Hamad said.
Protesters want the removal of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed since British rule ended in 1971.
For now, they have not sought change at the very top — his nephew King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has ultimate control over the 1.3 million people in Bahrain, half of them foreigners.
“We are requesting our rights in a peaceful way,” said Bakr Akil, a 20 year-old student. He wore a sheet stained with red ink which he said showed he was willing to die for freedom.
Women dressed in black abaya cloaks followed the procession with their own chants calling for peace and Bahraini unity.
Near the protest site at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, police kept their distance, massing on a nearby dirt lot in dozens of cars. The Interior Ministry said roads were all open on the island, which, at 750 sq.km, is about the size of Singapore.
“Talks with govt”
The main opposition group Wefaq, which boycotted parliament in protest at the clampdown by the security forces, said it would hold talks with the government on Wednesday.
“We support the people here. We are not the decision makers,” said Ibrahim Mattar, a Wefaq parliamentarian who had joined the funeral procession.
“The people are the decision makers,” Mattar said, adding that Wefaq would call for direct election of the prime minister.
Bahrain was considered the most vulnerable among Gulf Arab states to popular unrest in a region where, in an unwritten pact, rulers have traded a share of their oil wealth for political submission. Discontent has been expressed in sporadic unrest since the mid-1990s, well before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists across the region.
Activists also want the release of political prisoners, which the government has promised, and a new constitution.
Bahrain had offered cash payouts of around 1,000 dinars ($2,650) per family in the run-up to this week’s protests.