x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Protests in Bahrain continue for third day

Minister seeks dialogue in parliament as foreign ministry says those suspected of being responsible for the deaths of two protesters in two days of unrest have been detained.

Mourners pray at the funeral of Fadel Salman Matrouk in Manama yesterday. Mr Matrook was killed on Tuesday as police tried to stop a funeral march for another Bahraini who was killed in anti-government protests on Monday.
Mourners pray at the funeral of Fadel Salman Matrouk in Manama yesterday. Mr Matrook was killed on Tuesday as police tried to stop a funeral march for another Bahraini who was killed in anti-government protests on Monday.

MANAMA // Protests continued for a third day in Bahrain as demonstrators thronged the streets of the capital demanding political reforms.

Thousands took part in the funeral of Fadel Salman Matrouk, a demonstrator killed on Tuesday in clashes with police. They converged on Pearl Square in Manama city centre, where crowds had begun gathering the night before demanding more jobs, better housing and the freeing of political prisoners, as well as an end to what they said is discrimination against Shiites.

"We're not afraid of anyone, and we're not leaving until they meet our demands," said Ali al Ameer, 20. A bandage covered a wound on his right hand, inflicted, he said, by birdshot fired by police during protests the previous day.

Security forces kept their distance, as police helicopters flew overhead, seeking to avoid any further confrontation with the demonstrators.

Bahrain's foreign ministry said those suspected of blame for the deaths of two protesters killed on Monday and Tuesday had been arrested, "steps which make clear that the Kingdom of Bahrain does not condone the use of excessive force at any time".

Foreign minister Khaled bin Ahmed al Khalifa noted in a statement issued by the ministry "that the protests could happen in any free, democratic country".

Meanwhile Sheikh Khalid bin Ali al Khalifa, Bahrain's justice minister, told reporters at a press conference that the government is prepared to discuss changes to the constitution, but only if the debate is held in parliament.

"If you want any changes, it should be done within a constitutional process," the minister said.

In a telephone conversation with King Hamad, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, expressed his wishes for "continued security and stability for Bahrain and more progress and prosperity for its people," WAM, the state news agency, reported.

At Pearl Square, protesters collected donations, set up a media centre and first-aid tent, and generally prepared for a long protest.

"We don't want the protesters to leave, whatever they need is available here," said Abu Ammar, 52, who helped distribute sandwiches and fruit juices for lunch.

While many political agendas were evident in the square, they all shared a common focus on reform and an end to discrimination. Protesters also demanded the release of political prisoners.

From a makeshift stage, Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of Bahrain's largest opposition party, the Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, called for a constitutional monarchy with an elected prime minister.

"We are not looking for a religious government like Iran's, but we demand a civil government" that represents Shiites and Sunnis, he told reporters at a news conference.

Al Wefaq, which has 18 seats in the 40-member parliament, announced it is boycotting the chamber to protest the violence against demonstrators.

"There are different targets, but all in one direction," said Mustafa Abdullah, a 29-year-old engineer. Nuha Hassan, a 37-year-old office manager, added: "I want the best for my three kids."

Social networking websites were abuzz with calls to press ahead with the protests along with insults from presumed government backers dismissing the demonstrators as traitors and agents of Iran.

In a rare speech broadcast on state television on Tuesday evening, Bahrain's king apologised for the deaths on Monday and Tuesday and promised an investigation.

"With regret, there were two deaths among our dear sons," he said, adding that, "reform is a continuous process that will not stop".

In a speech on Tuesday, the US president Barack Obama urged its country's friends in the Middle East to heed the demands of protesters. "We have sent a strong message to our allies in the region saying let's look at Egypt's example, as opposed to Iran's example," Mr Obama said.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae