100,000 Bahrainis demonstrate for democracy

This is a video about the big pro-democracy demonstration today in Bahrain.

By Tom Mellen:

Bahrain protests rise again as 100,000 on street

Friday 09 March 2012

Over 100,000 people packed the main Budaiya highway outside Manama today to press the ruling US-backed monarchy to cede more power to representatives of the people.

Protesters carrying banners denouncing the Khalifa “dictatorship” and demanding the release of political prisoners formed a column over a mile long.

They chanted: “Down, down Hamad” in reference to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Riot police were deployed in force and a helicopter whirred overhead.

Officers fired tear gas at crowds of demonstrators who broke off from the main rally in a bid to reach the heavily guarded Pearl Roundabout in Manama.

There was no word on casualties at the time the Star went to press.

Pearl Roundabout was the hub of the civil rights movement that erupted onto the streets in February 2011 against the Khalifa dynasty’s control of all main posts and policies in the Gulf kingdom.

The uprising was quashed by troops backed by forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

At least 45 people have been killed in the ongoing crackdown, and hundreds have been detained.

At the same time the Khalifa clan has offered concessions, including granting some decision-making powers to Parliament, while rejecting demands that it give up the right to appoint holders of top government positions, such as the prime ministership.

Leading opposition group Al-Wefaq has said that the proposed changes do not go far enough.

It has called for constitutional amendments that would give Bahrain’s elected Council of Representatives legislative clout and the authority to form governments.

Prominent civil rights activist Sheikh Isa Qassim said today: “We are here for the sake of our just demands.

“We cannot make concessions over them, and we stick with them because we have sacrificed for them.”

Washington has issued gentle appeals for dialogue to try to ease the tensions, while continuing to deliver military equipment to the kingdom.

Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, one of the Pentagon’s main Gulf forces on Iran‘s doorstep.

Bahrain and other Gulf kingdoms have accused Iran of maintaining links with the country’s opposition groups, while failing to produce direct evidence.

See also here. And here. And here. And here.

Hundreds of thousands protest for democracy in Bahrain: here.

The king’s image is getting smaller at Manama Airport and photos of Hamad’s annointed heir, the crown prince, are nowhere to be seen. This, and an imprisoned Pearl Roundabout, symbolise much about Bahrain today: here.

US support for the Bahrain dictatorship has stymied democratic progress and enabled repression of activists: here.

March 9, 2012, by Alice Purkiss: Harassment of anti-government students at Bahrain Polytechnic continues: here.

10 thoughts on “100,000 Bahrainis demonstrate for democracy

  1. March 9, 2012, 1:26 p.m. ET

    Bahrain Opposition Marches, and Iraqis Show Solidarity

    A Wall Street Journal Roundup

    MANAMA, Bahrain—Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters flooded a highway in Bahrain on Friday in one of the largest opposition rallies in months against the Gulf nation’s rulers, inspiring a march in Baghdad.

    Security forces fired tear gas at smaller groups attempting to reach a heavily guarded square that was once the hub of the uprising.

    The march was called as a show of resolve by a Shiite-led rebellion against Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy more than a year after protests first broke out amid a wave of uprisings across the Arab world.

    The main procession was mostly peaceful, but breakaway groups were driven back by tear gas as they headed toward Pearl Square, which was the center of the uprising for weeks last year until it was stormed by security forces, the Associated Press reported.

    The demonstration was in part a reply to Bahrain’s Sunni leadership, which has portrayed the uprising as losing steam ahead of next month’s lucrative Formula One Grand Prix car race. It was canceled last year because of violence on the tiny island.

    The march stretched for miles. Some opposition leaders estimated the crowd at nearly 100,000, which would make it one of the largest protest gatherings since the street rallies erupted in February 2011.

    Bahrain’s majority Shiites seek to end the Sunni dynasty’s control of all main posts and policies in the strategic Gulf nation, which is the base of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Shiites make up about 70% of Bahrain’s 525,000 citizens, but they complain of widespread discrimination and say they are blocked from high-level political and security positions.

    Bahrain’s rulers have offered some concessions, including granting more decision-making powers to parliament, but reject demands that include giving up the right to appoint holders of top positions, such as prime minister.

    In Iraq, several thousand Shiites rallied after traditional Friday prayers in solidarity with protesters in Bahrain, responding to a call from firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

    In Baghdad’s impoverished Sadr City district, Mr. Sadr’s followers waved Bahraini and Iraqi flags and chanted slogans against Saudi Arabia, which sent troops to Bahrain last year to help crush the antigovernment protests.

    “Bahrain is free, free,” they chanted. “Get out occupier.”

    The rallies come at a delicate time for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who is trying to tamp down tensions with Sunni-led Gulf Arab regimes ahead of the Arab League summit expected to be held in Baghdad at the end of the month.

    Iraq’s Shiite majority sees double standards by Gulf regimes supporting the Sunni leadership in Bahrain while criticizing the Shiite-linked Alawite rulers of Syria for its use of violence to stamp out a popular uprising.

    Some protesters displayed banners urging the Arab League to take a stand toward the situation in Bahrain similar to its role in trying to resolve the conflict in Syria, “We want the Arab League states to put an end to the suffering of Bahrain,” read one banner in English. “Bahrain’s martyrs are Iraq’s martyrs.”

    Iraq’s support for Bahrain’s Shiites has angered Sunni Gulf states, one of the reasons the Arab League canceled plans to hold its summit in Baghdad last year. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League because of its brutal crackdown on protesters.

    In Bahrain, at least 45 people have been killed in the unrest, and hundreds have been arrested.

    “Down, down Hamad,” protesters chanted in a reference to Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Others carried signs in English and French denouncing the monarchy in an appeal to international media and websites.

    The unrest in Bahrain has put the U.S. in a difficult position. Washington has called for dialogue to try to ease the tensions, but it fears that pressing too hard on Bahrain’s leaders might jeopardize its important military relationships. The Fifth Fleet is one of the Pentagon’s main Gulf forces on Iran’s doorstep.

    Bahrain and its Gulf Arab allies have accused Shiite Iran of maintaining links to the Bahrain opposition groups, but no direct evidence has been produced.

    —Sam Dagher in Baghdad contributed to this article.



  2. Mar 9, 2012 – 20:50

    Mass pro-democracy protest rocks Bahrain

    MANAMA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Bahrainis demonstrated on Friday to demand democratic reforms, stepping up pressure on the U.S.-allied government with the biggest protest yet in a year of unrest.

    They began marching along a highway near Manama in response to a call from leading Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim, who urged people to renew their calls for greater democracy.

    A live blog showed images of the protesters carrying banners denouncing “dictatorship” and demanding the release of detainees.

    “We are here for the sake of our just demands that we cannot make concessions over and we stick with them because we have sacrificed for them,” Qassim said before the march in his weekly sermon in the Shi’ite village of Diraz.

    Qassim and other Shi’ite clerics led the march.

    “It is the biggest demonstration in the past year. I would say it could be over 100,000,” said a Reuters photographer after protesters filled up the main Budaiya highway in the area of Diraz and Saar, west of Manama.

    Later hundreds of protesters broke away from the march to walk down the main highway into Manama in an attempt to return to a traffic intersection that protesters occupied for a month during last year’s uprising.

    Activists said riot police blocking the road fired tear gas and the interior ministry said protesters threw stones. Clashes continued in the area for over an hour. Activists also reported clashes with police later in the capital’s Makharqa district, as well as in the village of Eker southeast of the Manama.

    However, elsewhere the march wound down peaceably as the majority of protestors streamed home.

    The government, pressed by its Western allies to allow peaceful expression of dissent, has allowed more opposition protests in recent months.

    A statement from the royal court praised the Qassim march and a small rival rally of several hundred government loyalists under the name “Fateh Gathering” as signs of democratic maturity.

    “The events at the Fateh Gathering as well as the gathering in the Northern Governorate are a source of pride for Bahrainis as a model of correct democratic behaviour,” state news agency BNA reported.

    Majority Shi’ites were in the forefront of the protest movement which erupted in February 2011 after uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

    The ruling Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family crushed the protests a month later, imposing martial law and bringing in Saudi and United Arab Emirates troops to help restore order. It accused Shi’ite power Iran of fomenting the unrest.

    On Friday, Iraqi followers of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demonstrated in Basra in support of the Bahraini opposition. Around 3,000 people chanted anti-Saudi slogans and carried Bahraini and Iraqi flags.


    Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, has remained mired in crisis and Shi’ite youths clash daily with riot police. The unrest has slowed the economy in what used to be a major tourism and banking hub.

    Tension has risen around the February 14 anniversary of the uprising, with security forces maintaining a tight grip on the intersection formerly known as the Pearl Roundabout, which remains closed.

    Pro-government Sunni groups have organized smaller counter-rallies, warning authorities not to enter into a dialogue on reforms that could give the elected parliament legislative clout and the power to form governments.

    Those groups look to Sunni power Saudi Arabia as a key ally and demonise the opposition as loyal to Iran, a charge the opposition parties deny. Analysts say Riyadh does not want Bahrain to agree to reforms that empower Shi’ites.

    Jamal Fakhro, deputy head of the appointed house of parliament, said recent contacts between the royal court and opposition parties meant there was no need for the march.

    “I don’t think we need any pressure to start something already started. If you are talking to the government, why go to the street again and show muscles?” he said. “You either accept dialogue or you go to the streets.”

    Activists say Wefaq, which jostles for position alongside more hardline groups who reject the monarchy, wants to show that it still dominates the opposition, which includes secular groups.

    One activist who declined to be named said many of the banners during the march, such as “No dialogue with killers”, came from an underground group calling itself February 14 Youth Coalition.

    Activists say at least 27 people have been killed in the unrest since June, many from the effects of tear gas. The government disputes the causes of death.

    King Hamad appeared to dismiss the opposition last month, saying they were disunited.

    Qassim said Friday’s march would show how strong the opposition was. “The march will either prove your are only an isolated minority making demands, or that the demands are widely popular,” he said in his sermon, which was posted on YouTube.

    (Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumi in Baghdad; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Andrew Roche)


  3. Thousands rally in Iraq over Bahrain crackdown

    10 March 2012, 06:47 (GMT+04:00)

    Thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of Baghdad and cities in the Shiite-majority south of the country on Friday to condemn Bahrain for crushing an uprising a year ago, AFP reported.

    The protests, organised by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, took place in a half-dozen cities in south Iraq with attendance ranging from dozens to several thousand, AFP reporters said.

    “The Bahraini king is a king only to himself, not for the oppressed people of Bahrain,” Sadrist official Ibrahim al-Jabari said in a speech to thousands of demonstrators in the movement’s Sadr City bastion in north Baghdad.

    Jabari also criticised the Arab League for barring Syria from attending an upcoming summit in Baghdad, but allowing Bahrain to join.

    Protesters shouted, “Bahrain! Free, Free Bahrain!” and held banners condemning Saudi Arabia’s “interference” in the Gulf monarchy.

    Rallies were also held in Sadr’s headquarters town of Najaf, the southern port city of Basra, and the towns of Nasiriyah, Hilla, Amara and Diwaniyah.

    AFP journalists said thousands of demonstrators attended the Najaf and Amara protests, while hundreds took part in the Basra, Nasiriyah and Hilla rallies. Diwaniyah, however, only say a few dozen protesters.

    “All of these protesters have come to say to the Bahraini leaders, ‘Stop what you are doing to the people of Bahrain’,” said Mohaned al-Gharawi, a Sadrist official taking part in the Najaf demonstration.

    Bahrain has complained to Iraq previously of Sadr’s “irresponsible statements” about the uprising, summoning Baghdad’s envoy to Manama in January.

    The Shiite-led opposition in Bahrain demands constitutional changes that would reduce the power of the ruling Sunni dynasty. Tensions have remained high in Bahrain since a deadly crackdown last year after a month of street protests in the capital Manama.

    Tensions between Iraq and the six Gulf Arab states have risen sharply since Bahrain secured military support from fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members to smash the month of pro-democracy protests.

    In the aftermath of the crackdown, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned that the military intervention risked stoking sectarian conflict across the region.



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