Protesters in the key Gulf state of Bahrain last night threatened to keep up a permanent Egypt-style demonstration in the capital until demands for the government to be sacked were met.
As calls for democracy continued to spill across the Middle East from Tunisia and Egypt, the King of Bahrain was forced to make a rare implicit apology for the behaviour of his security forces.
Two young protesters have been killed by police in the last two days – the second yesterday outside the hospital where 10,000 people gathered as the body of the first was being taken away for his funeral.
“We extend our condolences to the parents of the dear sons who died yesterday and today,” King Hamad said in a broadcast address. He promised an investigation headed by the deputy prime minister and said democratic reforms would continue.
But his words failed to assuage the protesters, who gathered on Pearl Square, a vast traffic concourse in the capital, Manama, renaming it “Bahrain’s Tahrir Square” after the epicentre of protests in Egypt.
Mohammed al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Centre for Human Rights, said the demonstrators were demanding the replacement of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, an uncle of the king who has held the post for 40 years, with an elected politician.
They also wanted a new constitution, improved living conditions, and an end to human rights violations.
“The leaders of these protests are the youth – they are not connected to any political parties,” he said. “We will press on until the government makes concessions.”
Bahrain has introduced elections in the last 15 years but Shia parties have never gained an absolute majority in the lower house despite making up the large majority of the population. In any case, power lies with the government, appointed by the royal family, which is Sunni.
The United States will be watching events nervously – Bahrain is a key ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet. On the other hand, US and other western diplomats say there is little to support claims by the royal family that opposition is stirred up by Iran’s Shia Islamic Republic.
In Iran itself, the authorities hit back yesterday at opposition leaders who backed Monday’s protests in Tehran and other major cities which were broken up by police with two deaths.
The government claimed that the deaths were caused by the protesters, which was strongly denied by opposition websites.
But members of the country’s parliament held an extraordinary demonstration of their own inside the chamber, demanding the execution of Mirhossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two defeated candidates in 2009’s disputed presidential election.
“The parliament condemns the Zionists, American, antirevolutionary and antinational action of the misled seditionists,” Ali Larijani, the conservative parliamentary speaker said as MPs shook their fists in unison and chanted ‘Death to Moussavi and Karroubi’.
“How did these gentlemen fall into the orchestrated trap of America?” he said.
In Washington, President Barack Obama urged Middle Eastern regimes facing protests to refrain from using “violence and coercion”.
At a news conference, he referred obliquely to events in both Bahrain and Iran, condemning the latter directly for its treatment of the protesters.
“We have sent a strong message to our allies to look at Egypt’s example rather than Iran’s example,” he said. “You can’t maintain power through coercion. At some level in any society there has to be consent.”
By Richard Spencer, and Alex Spillius in Washington 8:00PM GMT 15 Feb 2011
Source: The Telegraph