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Antigovernment Protesters Seize Main Square In Bahrain

15.02.2011 16:30


Thousands of antigovernment protesters seized a main square in Bahrain's capital, Manama, today after the deaths of two Shi'ite protesters in a police crackdown.

In a clear sign of concern over the widening crisis, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa made a rare address on national TV. He offered condolences for the deaths, pledged an investigation into the killings, and promised to push ahead with reforms that would include loosening state controls on the media and Internet.

Witnesses say that police appeared to be holding back from altercations with demonstrators after the king's speech, even as crowds surged into Pearl Square in Manama.

The rebellion has sharply escalated pressure on the Sunni-dominated government in Bahrain.

Two Shi'a Dead

The two Shi'ite protesters died as a result of police actions against antigovernment rallies, sparking opposition calls to step up demonstrations and a mass turnout at their funerals.

The main opposition Shi'ite bloc responded to the deaths by pulling its deputies out of the parliament today.

Although 70 percent of Bahrain's population is Shi'ite, the country is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy. Demonstrators want to bring an end to the rule of the Al-Khalifa family of King Hamad -- which includes Prime Minister Khalifa Al Khalifa and has a tight grip on other government ministries.

One demonstrator died from injuries he sustained late Monday when Bahraini police dispersed crowds of antigovernment protesters in a village east of Manama.

The interior ministry said the protester's death was "due to his wounds." The ministry said it had opened an inquiry into whether police resorted to "unjustified use of arms" to disperse the protest in the village of Diya.

Shi'ite opposition member of parliament Khalil al-Marzooq said a second protester was shot dead today by a hollow-point bullet used by security forces in front of Suleimaneya hospital in Bahrain's capital, Manama.

New 'Arab Reality'

The violence in Bahrain is part of growing public discontent that has been sweeping across the Arab world following the ouster of the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia after weeks of anti-government demonstrations in those countries.

All across the Middle East -- from Algeria to Yemen, Syria, Iran and Jordan -- antigovernment protesters have been emboldened by mass demonstrations that led to the ouster of autocratic presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

Spread through social networking media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, the wave of antigovernment demonstrations was discussed by the Arab League in Cairo today. Ahmed bin Helli, the body's deputy secretary-general, called it the "new Arab reality."

Protests In Yemen, Too

Meanwhile, some 3,000 people were protesting today in Yemen for a fifth consecutive day to demand political reforms and the ouster of the country's U.S.-allied President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years.

Correspondents report that a small contingent of police tried to disperse the demonstrators using tear gas and batons. But the protesters were continuing their march today from Sanaa University toward the city center.

Tensions were high as a heavy police force and some 2,000 pro-government supporters gathered today in the city center and were waiting for the demonstrators.

In remarks to be delivered later today at George Washington University, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is challenging autocratic regimes in Iran, the broader Middle East, and elsewhere to embrace online freedom and to listen to the demands of cyberdissidents or risk being toppled by tides of unrest.

According to advanced excerpts from her speech, Clinton says the United States supports an end to restrictions on Internet usage that have become common amid calls for change.

written by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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