Second protester killed in Bahrain

 

Thousands of Shia protesters marched into the capital of Bahrain today after a man was killed in clashes between police and mourners at a funeral for a demonstrator shot dead at an earlier anti-government rally.

The death, a day after a "Day of Rage" of protests yesterday, raised the prospect of further clashes between Bahrain's majority Shi'ite Muslims and the Sunni security forces backed by the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty.

Bahrain's main Shia opposition group Wefaq, which accuses rulers of discriminating and neglecting Shi'ites, responded to the violence by boycotting parliament. Enraged mourners chanted anti-government slogans inspired by protests that toppled the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.

"The people demand the fall of the regime!" they said, as thousands poured into Pearl Roundabout in Manama's city centre. They had marched from the funeral on the outskirts of Manama. Dozens of police cars were parked 500 metres away.

Protesters said their principal demand was the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed the country since its independence in 1971. An uncle of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, he is thought to own a great deal of land and is seen as a symbol of the wealth of the ruling family.

"Protesters don't want to topple the ruling family, but the end of this government and the prime minister," said Aly, a 49-year-old protester who declined to give his full name.

Protesters say they are also demanding the release of political prisoners, which the government earlier said it would do, and the creation of a new constitution.

"We need a government from the people, not only the Khalifa family," another protester from the flashpoint Shia village of Karzakan, where protests and clashes with police are common.

Poverty, high unemployment and attempts by the government to grant Sunnis from outside the country citizenship in order to change the demographic balance lie at the heart of deep-seated discontent among Bahrain's Shias.

Around half of the country's 1.3 million people are Bahraini, with the rest being foreign workers. The majority of citizens are Shia.

Witnesses said the clashes broke out when around 2,000 people set out from hospital to slowly escort the body of slain protester Ali Mushaima through narrow alleys of Shia villages on the outskirts of Bahrain's capital toward his home, where his body was to be washed before burial.

Diplomats say Bahrain's protests, organised on the internet, may gauge whether a larger Shia base can be drawn to the streets to raise pressure on the state for reforms that would give Shias a greater voice and better economic prospects.

Ibrahim Mattar, a Wefaq parliamentarian whose bloc won 18 of 40 seats in parliament's lower house in a tightly controlled October election, said suspending participation in parliament was a first step.

"We want to see dialogue," he said. "In the coming days, we are either going to resign from the council or continue."

Mushaima, the 22-year-old man being buried today, was killed yesterday in clashes in Daih village as security forces clamped down on Shia areas in the Gulf Arab kingdom.

Mattar said that police had tried to disperse the funeral procession using tear gas, but that mourners then regrouped and continued their procession. He said the man killed today had been shot.

Bahrain police said the mourners had clashed with four police patrol vehicles at the scene when one of them broke down and the other three were trying to remove it. One person, Fadhel Salman Matrook, was wounded and later died in hospital.

The Ministry of Interior said it had offered condolences to the family of the protester killed yesterday and would take legal action if the use of force was found to be unjustified.

"I am confident truth will prevail," foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said on Twitter, adding that it would be wrong to jump to conclusions and blame police. "No one accepts what happened. It's a sad feeling and all Bahrainis are hurt.

Bahrain, in a move appeared aimed at preventing Shia discontent from boiling over, had offered cash payouts in the run-up to the February 14th protests, which took place mainly in Shia villages outside of Manama.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, trying to take the steam out of protests, has said he would give 1,000 dinars to each local family, and the government has indicated that it may free minors arrested under a security crackdown last year.

Reuters