Tens of thousands of red-and-white draped flag-waving protesters flooded
Bahrain’s capital on Tuesday, in a massive show of force against the beleaguered
monarchy as the king made another concession to the marchers – a promise to
release an unspecified number of political prisoners.
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continued to spread across the Arab world on Tuesday, as thousands rallied for
reform in Iraqi Kurdistan, Islamists in Jordan vowed to resume demonstrations,
and in Egypt the transitional government swore in 11 new
Determined demonstrators took over Bahrain’s capital, Manama,
for the day, circling the Bahrain Mall and the city’s financial district,
symbols of the country’s recent prosperity, in a march to the heart of the
protest at Pearl Square.
“Egypt, Tunisia, are we any different?” marchers
chanted, calling for the Sunni rulers they accuse of discriminating against the
island’s Shi’ite majority to fall as the presidents of two other Arab countries
have in recent weeks.
Helicopters hovered overhead but the security
forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week, and the
size of the event rivaled any of the major demonstrations so far in the eightday
The decree issued earlier on Tuesday by Bahrain’s King Hamad
bin Isa Al Khalifa covers several Shi’ite activists accused of plotting against
the state. It underlined how much the absolute rulers of Bahrain want to
kick-start reform talks with opposition leaders, and the huge march in a nation
of half a million citizens showed how much they need to.
The exact number
of prisoners to be freed remains unclear, a government spokeswoman said. But the
inmates will include some of the 25 Shi’ite activists on trial for allegedly
plotting against the monarchy, a leading member of Bahrain’s Shi’ite opposition,
Abdul Jalili Khalil, told The Associated Press.
He called the prisoner
release “a good step” and a “positive gesture.”
Two of those in the case
are being tried in absentia, including prominent opposition leader Hassan
Meshaima, who has been in self-exile in London since last year. Meshaima’s
return to Bahrain was imminent, his supporters said.
presence could bolster opposition forces seeking a harder line against the
Bahrain dynasty, including some who have called for the complete ouster of the
king and the family that has ruled for more than 200 years.
group, known as Haq, is considered more radical than the main Shi’ite political
bloc that has taken a central role in the revolt and is seeking the
establishment of a constitutional monarchy.
A small group of Bahraini
army officers joined the ranks of protesters to demand reforms and the
resignation of the government.
They condemned the soldiers who shot at
protesters on Friday.
“What we did to the people was not heroic,” said
Yeussif Najri, an army officer.
“We ask the people to forgive us, we ask
the people for forgiveness.”
The government said the overall death toll
was seven from last week’s clashes. Previous reports from opposition groups and
hospital officials in the past week set the death toll at eight, but the
government tally now appears accurate.
The government also said 25 people
were hospitalized, but it’s unclear what degree of injury authorities used to
arrive at that figure. Opposition groups place the figure at more than 200.
Associated Press journalists at the main state hospital saw many dozens of
people being treated.
In Iraq, 5,000 protesters marched in the northern
city of Sulaimaniyah demanding political reforms and an investigation of the
fatal shootings of two protesters last week. The peaceful rally was a sign of
growing frustration with the tight control of two ruling parties over the
economy and politics in the self-ruled Kurdish region.
In Egypt, military
rulers swore in a cabinet with 11 new ministers, a nod to the protest movement
that ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Three former members of the Mubarak regime
retained senior posts despite Tuesday’s reshuffle.
The move comes as the
military leadership overseeing the country’s transition is trying to assure
Egyptians that it is committed to democratic reforms.
decision to keep Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit
and Justice Minister Mamdouh Marie – three former Mubarak’s loyalists – in their
post drew criticism from youth activists who helped launch the uprising on
Muhammad Abbas, a member of the Egypt Youth Coalition,
described the changes as “patchwork.” He called for swift, comprehensive
He said the youth groups hope to draw 1 million to a rally in
Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of the uprising, on Friday, and will urge them
to stay overnight. “We have to keep the pressure until all our demands are met,”
The new cabinet includes independents and members of opposition
parties for the first time in decades, pushing out the longtime ministers of
oil, social justice and labor.
The new cabinet also included two Coptic
Christians, including an ex-lawmaker.
Among the new names were Monier
Fakhri Abdel Nour, a Coptic member of the Wafd opposition party as minister of
tourism, filling a position that has been vacant since Zuhair Garana was jailed
on corruption charges. Top leftist Tagammu party member Gouda Abdel Khaleq was
named minister of social justice.
Warning of new mass protests, the young
activists who led the movement have pressed the military council to form a
broad-based government that excludes Mubarak’s cronies, release political
prisoners, abolish laws on political parties and allow free and fair
The military council already has dissolved parliament, which
was stacked with members of Mubarak’s National Democratic party, and suspended
In Jordan, the country’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood
vowed to resume protests, saying the government had not kept a promise of speedy
reforms. The announcement puts added pressure on King Abdullah II to give up
some of his sweeping powers, but is not seen as a threat to his rule. Opposition
figures have called on the king to surrender the authority to appoint cabinets
and dissolve parliament.
Under pressure from street protests inspired by
uprisings roiling the Arab world, Abdullah instructed his government earlier
this month to enact “quick and real” political reforms, allowing greater public
say in the decision-making.
However, protesters say little has been done
so far to meet their demands, such as changing an election law that favors the
king’s loyalists. The Brotherhood is Jordan’s largest opposition
The movement and its political wing, the Islamic Action Front, had
refrained from participating in protests for the past two weeks, saying they
wanted to give newly appointed Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit a chance to carry
However, Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu Bakr said on
Tuesday that the government installed on February 9 has not carried out the
He condemned attacks on protesters last Friday in
Amman, which saw eight wounded in the first violence in weeks of
Abu Bakr claimed that “thugs” were used or hired to carry
out “aggression by groups that do not want reforms.” He urged the government to
take action against those behind the attack and move quickly toward reform.