Bahraini opposition continues protests to press demands

Tens of thousands of mainly Shi'ite protesters waving Bahraini flags marched from a hospital in Manama to Pearl Square.

By REUTERS
March 2, 2011 12:39
2 minute read.
Protests in Bahrain

Bahrain protests Reuters 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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MANAMA - Protests in Bahrain started to make forays away from the central square in Manama and into different parts of the city, pressing the Sunni-led government for swift democratic reform.

Since thousands of protesters took to the streets two weeks ago there has been no formal dialogue between the government and the opposition, mainly majority Muslim Shi'ites, who said they are shut out of good jobs, decent healthcare and housing.

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The king pardoned political prisoners, reshuffled the cabinet, increased housing allowances and appointed the crown prince to lead a national dialogue to resolve a crisis that in its early days claimed the lives of seven and wounded hundreds in protests.

Tens of thousands of mainly Shi'ite protesters waving Bahraini flags marched on Tuesday from a hospital in Manama to Pearl Square, the focal point of the protests.

"No dialogue - the people want the fall of the regime," many banners read, echoing the calls heard in Egypt and Tunisia that brought down the leaders of those countries.

Late on Tuesday, a group of about 100 protesters started to erect tents outside the Bahrain Financial Harbour, one of Bahrain's largest business towers and home to international banks and businesses. But a Shi'ite cleric asked them to return to Pearl Square, which they did at around midnight.

Tens of thousands of pro-government supporters have also taken to the streets in recent days, saying that reforms launched by Bahrain's king a decade ago have resulted in freedoms and democracy unique in the Gulf Arab region.



The groups who called for Tuesday's march were more moderate and drew substantially larger numbers than the more radical youth movement that occupied Pearl Square and launched its own, smaller marches to government buildings in recent days.

The youth movement plans to march to the Interior Ministry on Wednesday, while another pro-government rally is planned for the evening.

"There's one family ruling the country, in sports, politics and economics, everything is controlled by the royal family," said Ali Ibrahim, a protester.

"The government needs to be elected," he said.

Students at Bahraini schools were also protesting against the government on Wednesday.

Bahrain's Minister of Social Development Fatima al-Balooshi said that the government was interested in dialogue but that a small minority in Bahrain prevented talks.

"The king is really afraid of seeing the country split. There is a very fine line between having peace and having conflict in Bahrain," she told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.

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