Saturday 22 July 2017

Police kill two as people power brings Bahrain to the brink

People carry the body of a demonstrator killed during a protest on Monday, as they gather at a Shi'ite village cemetery in Sanabis, west of the Bahraini capital Manama yesterday
People carry the body of a demonstrator killed during a protest on Monday, as they gather at a Shi'ite village cemetery in Sanabis, west of the Bahraini capital Manama yesterday

Richard Spencer and Alex Spillius in Washington

Protesters in the key Gulf state of Bahrain threatened last night 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 past 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.

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.



Constitution

Mohammed al-Maskati, the 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," Mr Maskati said. "We will press on until the government makes concessions."

Bahrain has held elections in the past 15 years but Shia parties have never gained an absolute majority in the lower house, despite making up the large majority of the population. Power lies with the government, appointed by the royal family, which is Sunni.

The US 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 the authorities hit back yesterday at opposition leaders who backed Monday's protests in Tehran and other major cities. Members of Iran's parliament held an extraordinary demonstration inside the chamber, demanding the execution of Mirhossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two defeated candidates in 2009's disputed presidential election.

In Washington, President Barack Obama urged Middle Eastern regimes facing protests to refrain from using "violence and coercion".

"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." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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