Bahrain: King must get rid of his corrupt uncle, say protesters
Published 21/02/2011 | 05:00
THE king of Bahrain came under heavy opposition pressure to prove his newly stated commitment to reform yesterday by sacking his unpopular uncle, the world's longest-serving prime minister.
Shia opposition leaders said they would resist a government offer of dialogue until the kingdom's Sunni rulers made a significant gesture by sacrificing Prince Khalifa, who has held his position since Bahrain's independence from Britain in 1971. They also called for the release of political prisoners.
A day after King Hamad had to call his army off the streets after a brutal crackdown that killed at least seven people failed to quell the protests, the opposition has sensed momentum swinging its way.
They are also hoping to take advantage of rumoured rifts in the Al Khalifa dynasty that have pitted hardliners, including the prime minister, against some reformists around the king and his son, Crown Prince Salman.
The desire to see Prince Khalifa ousted is almost universally shared by the tens of thousands of protesters who reoccupied Pearl Monument, the symbolic centre of the capital Manama, after the security forces withdrew on Saturday night.
The prime minister is widely blamed for the economic and political marginalisation of Bahrain's Shia majority, which accounts for up to 70pc of the population. Regarded as one of the richest men in the state, many Bahrainis -- including some Sunnis -- see him as a symbol of the corruption allegations that have blighted the ruling family.
"After 40 years of being in power, the time has come for him to step down," said Jawad Fairooz, a senior member of the main Shia opposition party, Wefaq
"We are in favour of dialogue, but we should have enough confidence that the dialogue will be successful. We want some positive indications and a change of the government should be part of it."
With Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, adding her voice to international calls for reform, King Hamad has instructed the Crown Prince to begin negotiations with the opposition.
It is demanding the introduction of a constitutional monarchy, genuine political representation and a fairer deal for Shias, who have been largely shut out of jobs in government and the security forces.
Protesters said they would remain at Pearl Monument until such demands were met. (© Daily Telegraph, London)