x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Calls for talks in Bahrain after protesters fired on

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa granted powers to Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to resolve the current situation through dialogue.

MANAMA // Bahrain's King yesterday asked the crown prince to open a national dialogue once calm returns to the nation, after security forces opened fire on protesters in the capital, injuring at least 80 people.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said, "all powers to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of all gracious citizens from all sections" would be granted to Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to resolve the current situation through dialogue.

The firing started as marchers from the village of Deih moved towards Pearl Square roundabout yesterday afternoon, where at least four people were killed on Thursday.

Protesters described a chaotic scene of tear gas clouds, bullets coming from many directions and people slipping in pools of blood as they sought cover. Some claimed the gunfire came from either helicopters or sniper nests, the Associated Press reported. This was denied by the Ministry of Interior.

"People started running in all directions and bullets were flying," said Ali al Haji, 27, a bank clerk. "I saw people getting shot in the legs, chest, and one man was bleeding from his head."

The injured were taken to Salmaniya Medical Complex where officials said at least one person was in critical condition.

In a televised speech, Prince Salman said "our dialogue must take place in a climate of total calm," adding that "no issue can be excluded from that dialogue".

"What is happening today in Bahrain is not acceptable ... We have reached a dangerous stage that necessitates that each of us acknowledges the responsibilities ... Bahrain today is divided."

US President Barack Obama condemned the violence in Bahrain, home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

"The regime has broken something inside of me. ... All of these people gathered today have had something broken in them," said Ahmed Makki Abu Taki at the funeral for his 23-year-old brother, Mahmoud, who was killed in Thursday's predawn sweep through Pearl Square.

At a Shiite mosque in the village of Diraz, an anti-government hotbed, Imam Isa Qassim called the Pearl Square assault a "massacre" and thousands of worshippers chanted: "The regime must go."

Yesterday morning, hundreds marched through Sitra, as caskets carrying the bodies of two people killed on Thursday were driven through the streets. The crowd chanted "Not Sunnis, not Shia; One Bahrain", as they made they made their way through the village and past the home of Ali Khudeir, a 52-year-old father of four, who was killed.

"He was a good man, who loved to help people," said Umm Abdullah, 40, his sister in law, who joined a group of female relatives watching the procession pass, some wailing in grief.

But supporters of the government also came out, seeking to emphasise that the protests were not universal.

After noon prayers at the Grand Mosque in the Juffair neighbourhood, hundreds of people spilt out onto the main street to voice their support for King Hamad and the government. Traffic was at a standstill in parts of the capital as people took to their cars, waving flags, beeping horns and holding pictures of members of the Al Khalifa family.

"We are supporting our royal family, we were born with them and we will die with them," said Sabah al Rumaihi, 40, a businessman. "The government gave a clear message in Lulu [Pearl Square] and gave enough time for the people [to leave]. They get housing, allowances and benefits, but they don't appreciate it."

Tareq, 27, from Juffair said he came out to show support for his country.

"While I think maybe it's an insensitive time to hold such a rally [after the deaths in Pearl Square], it's important to show not everyone wants to overthrow the government," he said. "Still, it was very shocking to wake up to such news, it was like a nightmare to see such actions and the force that was used."

Following the violence on Thursday, demonstrators have maintained a presence outside the Salmaniya Medical Complex, where the injured are being treated. Makeshift food-stalls have been set-up, alongside a table displaying what protesters allege are examples of the ammunition that has been used against them in the past week.

"We were just staying in Lulu Square - youth and people my mother's age," said Noor Abbas, 24. "We were singing songs about our country, it was peaceful. All we want are our rights."

The protesters have demanded more jobs, improved housing and the release of political prisoners. They also want an end to what they say is discrimination against Shiites.