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Bahrain mourns protesters amid fears of new unrest
Thousands of Shiites gathered in Bahrain on Friday to renew calls for the overthrow of the regime as they buried the victims of a violent police raid on anti-government protesters in the capital’s Pearl Square.
AFP - Angry Bahraini Shiites on Friday buried four killed in a violent police raid on anti-regime protesters as the army enforced a tight clamp across the capital of the Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchy.
Thousands of mourners in the village of Sitra, east of Manama, chanted slogans calling for the ouster of the regime of the al-Khalifa dynasty, as well as songs urging unity between the Shiite majority and Sunni compatriots.
They chanted "people want to overthrow the regime" -- the slogan used by anti-regime protesters across the Arab world inspired by the uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt which brought down the former two strongmen of the Western-backed countries.
They also wrapped the bodies of Ali Khodeir, 53, and Mahmud Mekki, 23, with Bahraini flags. A third victim, Issa Abdulhasan, 60, was buried in the village of Karzakan, while the fourth, Ali Mumen, 22, was buried in Sitra later in the day.
A large banner carried in front of Mumen's funeral condemned concerns by the Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone that next month's Grand Prix race in Bahrain would be affected by the political upheavals.
"Mr. Ecclestone, are our lives a price for your Formula One?" it asked, in English.
Police were not visible at the funerals but a helicopter hovered over Sitra, while army tanks and troops kept tight control on the streets of Manama.
"No Sunnis. No Shiites, only national unity," chanted the mourners whose community complains of discrimination and faces suspicion over its loyalty to Bahrain, amid Gulf fears of Iranian attempts to use Shiites to destabilise the staunch US-allied Sunni monarchies.
They also chanted slogans calling for the government to be held responsible for the killings, witnesses said.
The family of Mumen showed his body to foreign journalists, to reveal the number of hits he received. An AFP reporter said the body bore the marks of numerous buckshot wounds in the shoulder, as well as the legs.
"I call upon my Sunni brothers to express solidarity. Otherwise, they will be the next (victims)," said the father of Mumen, Ali.
Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-regime demonstrators staged a march in Manama after Friday prayers, denouncing the opposition and pledging allegiance to the king.
"The people want to reinforce the regime," they chanted.
Concerned that events in Bahrain could destabilise the entire region, Gulf foreign ministers met in Manama on Thursday and expressed their "total support for Bahrain in the areas of politics, economy, security and defence."
In Washington, US President Barack Obama expressed opposition to the use of force, while Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said those who did use it should be held accountable.
Witnesses said riot police stormed through Pearl Square, the epicentre of pro-democracy protests that have shaken the Gulf island state, in the early hours of Thursday firing hollow-point bullets, rubber bullets and tear gas, sending hundreds of protesters fleeing.
The raid stunned the opposition after the interior ministry had apologised for the killing of two demonstrators on Monday and Tuesday, and said it arrested policemen pending an investigation ordered by king Hamad who expressed his deep sorrow in a televised speech on Tuesday.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed al-Thani said on Thursday that the police intervention was justified to prevent "a sectarian conflict and an economic crisis."
The Shiite-led opposition raised its stakes following the protest, with Sheikh Ali Salman, the head of the Islamic National Accord Association which has the largest single parliamentary bloc, demanding a "real constitutional monarchy."
The opposition wants the ruling family to give up its grip over government posts. Salman on Thursday demanded the resignation of the widely despised Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, the uncle of king Hamad who has been in office since 1971.
But the prospect of a prolonged crisis raises fears of a potential flashpoint between Iran and its Arab rivals in the Gulf, if the Islamic republic attempts to capitalise on the Shiite-led protest.
Shiite hardliners in Iran have often expressed kinship and support for Bahrain's Shiites, whose leadership on the other hand vies to stress their allegiance to Bahrain.