x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Bahrain's king expresses regret for deaths

After protests in Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa expresses regret for deaths and promises reforms as opposition group suspends participation in parliament.

Bahraini Shiite protesters carry the coffin of a comrade who died a day earlier from his wounds after clashes with police, during his funeral in the town of Jidhafs, near Manama.
Bahraini Shiite protesters carry the coffin of a comrade who died a day earlier from his wounds after clashes with police, during his funeral in the town of Jidhafs, near Manama.

MANAMA // Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa yesterday expressed regret for the death of two people in protests on the Gulf island.

"With regret, there were two deaths among our dear sons. We extend our sincere condolences to the families and ask God to grant them endurance and consolation," the king said in a rare and conciliatory address on state television.

He promised that the "regretful incidents" would be investigated and the process of political reform would continue.

"Reform is a continuous process that will not stop," he said.

Thousands of protesters were converging in the Pearl Roundabout in the centre of the capital as he spoke, joining thousands of others who had earlier attended the funeral of the one of the dead men. Together they chanted, "Sunni, Shiite, we are all brethren."

The events marked the second night of protests after Bahrainis thronged the streets of at least 16 villages on Monday night. Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima suffered a fatal gunshot wound as police attempted to disperse the protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets on Monday.

The unrest continued yesterday morning, when police clashed with mourners who had gathered at Salmaniya Medical Complex to collect Mushaima’s body. The second Bahraini, Fadhel Salman Matrouk, was killed when many in the panicked crowd sought shelter in the hospital.

The nature of Matrouk’s fatal injury was not immediately known, but Bahrain’s chief of public security said yesterday that he was wounded when mourners clashed with security patrols that were “evacuating a car which was hindering the funeral cortege from proceeding.”

An estimated 4,000 mourners attended Mushaima’s funeral later in the day in his hometown of Daih before moving on to protest in Manama.

Bahrain’s security forces kept a low profile at the funeral, a decision that Ibrahim Sherrif, the Sunni leader of the opposition National Action Society said “was the only sensible thing”.

The Ministry of Interior, meanwhile, has also offered various public security and safety details on its Twitter feed, confirming the deaths and alerting motorists on how to avoid the protests.

“A medical source affirms that the injured individuals currently being treated at SMC are in stable condition and no other death is recorded,” announced one tweet late on Tuesday night.

In another, the ministry said: “Chief of Public Security: Clashes between funeral participants and a police patrol led to Bahraini Fadhel Salman Matrook’s death. Probe is on.”

In a statement last night the ministry said: “Out of keenness to maintain citizens’ safety, we express our regret over those who fell dead or injured in the last incidents and extend our sincere condolences to their families and all the people of Bahrain, sharing with them their grief and sufferings.”

It added: “In order to maintain the safety of the homeland and citizens and to avoid the recurrence of similar regrettable incidents, we urge all the citizens to adhere to calmness and solidarity and to contain the incidents in total patience, rationality and advancement of national interests.”

"Concerning yesterday's death, late citizen Ali Abdulhadi died in a separate incident that had no relation to the demonstration. However, details of what exactly happened will be provided by a probe into the case.

"With regard to the second death and as it was earlier explained by the Public Security Chief, it took place during the funeral of late Ali Abdulhadi when some mourners clashed with three patrols which were in the same place as the funeral trying to evacuate one of their vehicles which had gone out of order. Fadhel Matrouk was injured in the mourners' clash with the patrols and died after being rushed to hospital. A probe has been opened to explore the reasons behind the death.

"We would like also to inform the citizens that out of respect of the feelings of the mourners, they have been allowed to head to the Lulu [Pearl] roundabout where they are still there. Meantime, we have taken all necessary measures to ease the traffic in the area but we urge the citizens not to go to that area to avoid traffic jams."

In protest at the killings, Bahrain’s largest political party, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, yesterday said they would postpone their participation in parliament because of the deaths.

A party representative in the funeral procession said their main aims are to end discrimination against Shiites and press for constitutional reform.

In a bid to address economic grievances in the run-up to this week’s protests, the king announced that every family would receive a gift of 1,000 Bahraini dinars (Dh10,000).

Last night, the atmosphere at the Pearl Roundabout was jubilant, as demonstrators waved flags and hoisted their political leaders on their shoulders. Some brought tents and were planning to stay.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae