x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Rallies paralyse Manama as demonstrators move through protected zones of embassies

Bahrain opposition party MPs resign in protest at deaths of demonstrators as thousands march past embassies and diplomatic compounds.

Protesters hold up a banner bearing photographs of those who have been killed in demonstrations in Manama.
Protesters hold up a banner bearing photographs of those who have been killed in demonstrations in Manama.

MANAMA // Thousands of demonstrators streamed through Bahrain's diplomatic area and other sites yesterday.

At least three processions paralysed parts of the capital, Manama, and appeared to reflect a growing defiance of calls by Bahrain's rulers to hold talks.

Protesters moved through the highly protected zone of embassies and diplomatic compounds. No violence was reported.

Other marchers plastered fences with flyers denouncing security forces for attacks that have killed seven people since the first protests on February 14.

In addition yesterday, 18 MPs from the Al Wefaq Shiite opposition bloc officially submitted their letter of resignation to protest at the deaths of anti-regime demonstrators, seven of whom have been killed by security forces since the protests began. "We are no longer affiliated with this council, which did not lift a finger in front of these massacres," read the letter signed by the 18 MPs. The 18 MPs of Al Wefaq, or the Islamic National Accord Association, make up the largest single bloc in the parliament.

Some of the marchers in Bahrain claim that authorities still hold more than 200 political prisoners despite the release of about 100 political detainees last week. There were no reports of violence.

The monarchy is seeking talks with opposition groups. The government spokeswoman Maysoon Sabkar stressed that there was no deadline for the offer of dialogue. But the protesters still appear more interested in showings their strength on the streets than moving into negotiations.

Shiites, who account for about 70 per cent of the country's 525,000 people, have long complained of discrimination.

One group of protesters yesterday marched along a central highway past government buildings and new skyscrapers, including the strikingly modern triangular World Trade Center.

Others joined in a motorcade waving the red-and-white Bahraini flag and showing images of those killed in the clashes. As in previous days, men led the marchers and were followed by women.

Small numbers of police vehicles were seen along the way, but authorities did not intervene. Businessmen watched silently as the demonstrators passed.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse