Bahrain protesters take control of main square

Second demonstrator killed in clashes with police; authorities fire tear gas, as protesters mourn man killed in first Egypt-inspired protest in Gulf.

Bahrain protests 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Bahrain protests 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Thousands of protesters in Bahrain were filling a main square in the Gulf nation's capital Tuesday, as Egypt-inspired demonstrations gripped the country for a second day.
Security forces appeared to hold back as the crowds poured into Pearl Square in Manama. The dramatic move came just hours after a second protester died in clashes with police in the strategic island kingdom, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
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Oppositions groups are calling for greater political freedoms and an end to the ruling Sunni monarchy's grip on key decisions and government posts. The nation's majority Shi'ites have long complained of discrimination.
Earlier Tuesday, security forces in Bahrain fired tear gas and bird shot on mourners gathered for a funeral procession for a man killed in the first Egypt-inspired protests to reach the Gulf, sharply raising the chances for further unrest.
Officials at Bahrain's Salmaniya Medical Complex — the meeting point for thousands of mourners — said a 31-year-old man died from injuries from bird shot fired during the melee in the hospital's parking lot. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to journalists.
The latest death raises the possibility of more rallies and challenges to the ruling Sunni monarchy in Bahrain — a strategic Western ally and home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
After the clash, riot police eventually withdrew and allowed the funeral cortege for 21-year-old Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima to proceed from the hospital, the main state-run medical facility in Bahrain's capital Manama.
Mushaima was killed Monday during clashes with security forces trying to halt marches to demand greater freedoms and political rights. At least 25 people were injured in the barrage of rubber bullets, bird shot and tear gas, family members said.
A statement from Bahrain's interior minister, Lt.-Gen. Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, expressed "sincere condolences and deep sympathy" to Mushaima's family. He stressed that the death will be investigated and charges would be filed if authorities determined excessive force was used against the protesters.
But that's unlikely to appease the protesters, whose "day of rage" coincided with major anti-government demonstrations in Iran and Yemen.
In the past week, Bahrain's rulers have attempted to undermine calls for reform by promising nearly $2,700 for each family and pledging to loosen state controls on the media.
A main Shi'ite opposition group, Al Wefaq, denounced the "bullying tactics and barbaric policies pursued by the security forces" against peaceful marchers staging the first major rallies in the Gulf since uprisings toppled long-ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
Bahrain's protesters, however, claim they do not seek to overthrow the ruling monarchy but want greater political freedoms and sweeping changes in how the country is run. The demands include transferring more decision-making powers to the parliament and breaking the monarchy's grip on senior government posts.
In Kuwait, opposition groups had called for an anti-government protest last week, but shifted the date to March 8 after the resignation of the country's scandal-tainted interior minister.