x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Demonstrators blockade parliament building in Manama

Parliamentary session delayed by several hours when demonstrators formed a human chain around the entrance before moving on to the state television headquarters.

MANAMA // Demonstrators blockaded Bahrain's parliament and massed outside the state broadcaster's offices yesterday in efforts to escalate pressure after two weeks of non-stop marches.

The demonstrations appeared to be part of a strategy to hold rallies at sensitive locations in the capital, Manama, while maintaining a round-the-clock protest base in the central Pearl Roundabout.

The parliament became a target to coincide with a meeting of the 40-member upper chamber, which is appointed by Bahrain's ruler. The session was delayed by several hours when protesters formed a human chain around the entrance.

From parliament, the marchers then moved to the state television headquarters, chanting slogans claiming that the reports on the unrest seek to widen rifts between the Shiite-led protesters and the Sunni dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for more than two centuries.

Shiites, who account for about 70 per cent of the country's 525,000 people, have long complained of discrimination and other abuses. More employment opportunities and better housing have been among their demands.

Bahrain's rulers have sought talks with opposition groups to ease the tensions.

Late on Sunday the US president, Barack Obama, welcomed a move by Bahrain to reshuffle its cabinet and urged the government to respect human rights.

"I welcome the announcement by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa about making important changes to the cabinet and restating his commitment to reform," Mr Obama said.

The king reshuffled the cabinet last week in a further attempt to appease the opposition.

The ministers of housing, health and cabinet affairs were among those sacked, said three government officials who did not wish to be named, adding that they had not yet received official confirmation of who was being replaced.

Mr Obama said: "As a long-standing partner of Bahrain, the United States continues to believe that Bahrain's stability will be enhanced by respecting the universal rights of the people of Bahrain and reforms that meet the aspirations of all Bahrainis."

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse