x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bahrain loyalists pledge support to King Hamad

Government supporters gather in their thousands in Manama to chant 'Long live Abu Salman' in support of king of Bahrain

A hospital worker grieves for protester Abdulridha Mohammed Hasan Buhmaid, 32, after he was declared dead at in the intensive care unit of the Salmaniya Medical Centre.
A hospital worker grieves for protester Abdulridha Mohammed Hasan Buhmaid, 32, after he was declared dead at in the intensive care unit of the Salmaniya Medical Centre.

MANAMA // Thousands of government supporters gathered in the capital of Bahrain yesterday pledging allegiance to the royal family, as protesters pressed their demands to bring down the Gulf dynasty.

Bahraini men and women flowed to the area around the Sunni Fateh mosque for the evening Muslim prayers.

"Long live Abu Salman," they chanted, using the by-name for King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa.

Just as on Pearl Square, which has been occupied by anti-regime protesters since Saturday, government supporters brandished red-and-white Bahraini flags. But they also carried posters of the monarch and Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad.

Their cars were also plastered with posters of the Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the uncle of King Hamad, who has been in office since 1971 and is despised by the opposition.

State-run Bahrain TV broadcast pictures of the prime minister being driven through the crowds.

"We will not abandon you and I am with you," he told those crowding around his car. "I pray to God to be able to serve you."

Basil Fahed, 18, from Hamed town said: "I want to come here to support Sheikh Kalifa and King Hamid. He is very good, and there are no problems here. He was in a parade of cars rallying in support of the government on the road toward Al Fateh Grand Mosque.

Another demonstrator, Fahad al Qubaisi, a 27-year-old lawyer from Muharraq, said: "I want to support the government and I want to keep the king and prime minister. I feel in LuLu [the Pearl Roundabout] they want the government to go. The government made a mistake by the killings, and they should talk to the people."

Across town at the Pearl Roundabout, thousands more remained camped out, where many are calling for the resignation of the government, after a week of protests that has left seven people dead.

One of the opposition's key demands is the resignation of the government, who they hold responsible for the violence.

Ali al Aswad, a member of Al Wefaq, said last night that talks were continuing with other opposition groups on setting conditions before a dialogue could begin with Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, the crown prince.

Government officials were unavailable for comment yesterday.

The death toll from the week-long unrest in Bahrain rose yesterday to seven, after one of the protesters shot by security forces on Friday died from his injuries.

Abdul Radha Bu Humaid, a 32-year-old father of three, was shot in the head when security forces fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators on Friday, wounding more than 80 people.

"He was brain dead, but then his heart stopped," said Dr Nehad al Shirawi, an ICU consultant at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, where Mr Bu Humaid's wife Aqeel works as a pediatric nurse. Hospital sources confirmed that 572 people have been injured during the past week, many from tear-gas inhalation and birdshot wounds.

Shortly after Mr Bu Humaid was pronounced dead, dozens of his friends, relatives, doctors and nurses filled the intensive-care ward, some wailing and crying.

"My feeling is I am happy. I am very proud of my son. The victory will come from the blood of my son," said Mohammed Bu Humaid, 60, after his son's body had been carried to the hospital's mortuary surrounded by hundreds of mourners.

Yesterday calls grew for the resignation of health officials, after what staff at Salmaniya Medical Complex described as providing misleading information about the extent of the casualties over the last week.

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff gathered outside the accident and emergency section for their fourth protest in as many days, urging the health minister to step down.

Among the crowd was a hospital intern who would identify herself only as Dr Zahra, 24, from Saudi Arabia. She said she decided not to heed her government's calls to return home.

"I decided to stay because I am on duty and my heart did not let me go and leave the situation here," she said. "If I can help, I will. I believe if anyone wants freedom, they have to pay for it, and Bahrain has paid a high price."

Thousands continued to occupy the traffic circle in the centre of the capital yesterday. Known as the "Pearl" roundabout for the large monument to pearl diving at its centre, some of the protesters are now referring to it as Duwar al Shuhada, or Martyrs Roundabout.

A huge crane has been brought into the circle, flying a massive Bahraini flag. Nearby, protesters have attached tarpaulin to a replica pearl-diving boat at the side of the roundabout, to provide shelter for some of the people who remain there day and night.

Nearby, a man prepared charcoal for a barbeque, with crates of fresh fish on the ground next to him. At another food distribution point, a man sat making a vat of curry, as an elderly woman dropped some Bahraini dinars into a communal pot that is used to purchase the food. A sign close by reads: "No discrimination in one nation. No Sunni, no Shia, only Bahraini."

Among those at the roundabout yesterday was Zahra al Mulla, 27, who came with a group of her colleagues, all teachers. Despite instructions from the Ministry of Education that schools should remain open, Mrs al Mulla and her co-workers decided to strike.

"Many of the teachers and the students protested today," said Mrs al Mulla a mother of three. "What we saw on Thursday [the pre-dawn raid by security forces that left three dead], we can't believe. I know my rights and I want freedom, especially for my children."

zconstantine@thenational.ae