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Prisoners released in Manama, but protesters demand regime change

Video by Aurore Cloe DUPUIS

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-02-22

Vast crowds have converged on Pearl Square in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, to press for regime change after King Hamad ceded to opposition demands for the release of political prisoners.

AFP - Thousands of Bahrainis joined Tuesday the funeral of a slain Shiite protester as King Hamad ordered political prisoners freed in a new bid to end a standoff with anti-regime demonstrators.
             
Mourners chanted anti-regime slogans as the funeral procession wound through Manama streets, while vast crowds of protesters converged on Pearl Square to demand the fall of the regime despite one of their demands -- release of political prisoners -- having been met.
             
Chants of "sit-in, sit-in, until the regime falls" reverberated across Pearl Square, the epicentre of anti-regime protests since February 14 which has now been turned into a tent city.
             
The Shiite-led opposition has called for a demonstration Tuesday afternoon in Manama, the first to be officially called for by political associations since protests started last week in response to calls by cyber activists.
             
Tuesday's demonstration has been titled "the march of loyalty to martyrs," said Ibrahim al-Sharif, a Sunni secularist leading opposition activist.
             
"We expect it to be the largest for the opposition," he said.
             
The protest comes a day after King Hamad bin Isaa al-Khalifa answered a crucial opposition demand by ordering the release of political prisoners and halting trial procedures against others.
             
The Islamic National Accord Association (INAA) which is the main Shiite formation and controls 18 seats in the 40-member parliament, had demanded along with other opposition groups, the release of prisoners before considering a call for dialogue.
             
INAA quit the parliament last week in protest to security forces opening fire on demonstrations, during which seven people were killed and scores injured.
             
The protester being buried on Tuesday, 20-year-old Redha Mohammed, died of his wounds on Monday after being shot by police three days earlier.
             
Tuesday's protests come after pro-government Sunnis rallied in their thousands at a Manama mosque Monday evening pledging loyalty to the al-Khalifa family, and calling on protesters to answer an invitation by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad to engage in wide-reaching dialogue.
             
A senior opposition figure, Hassan Mashaima, who was being tried in absentia has said he plans to return home on Tuesday, adding yet more pressure on the royal family for reform.
             
A leader of the opposition Haq movement, Mashaima told AFP before King Hamad's pardon was announced he would return to Manama but had "no guarantees" he would not be arrested on arrival.
             
"I have decided to return to my country," said Mashaima, a Shiite who is currently in London and faces charges of terrorism in his native Bahrain, along with 24 others.
             
The names of those included in the king's pardon will be announced on Tuesday, state news agency BNA reported.
             
The Gulf kingdom has been in turmoil since police very early last Thursday stormed Pearl Square as protesters were asleep, killing four people and wounding scores.
             
More clashes broke out on Friday after the army vowed to restore order.
             
On Saturday the army was pulled back to bases and all security forces were also ordered to stay away from protesters, who ever since have crowded Pearl Square to demand the end of the al-Khalifa dynasty which has ruled for centuries.
             
The political upheavals have forced the cancellation of next month's Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix and authorities fear the economy of the small archipelago will be dented.
              
Bahrain has dwindling oil resources, while tourism from neighbouring Saudi Arabia is a significant source of revenues for many.
             
Standard and Poor's said on Monday it was downgrading Bahrain's credit rating by one notch and could lower it further.
             
"There is no work. There are no tourists, and foreign residents who usually go out are staying home," said a dejected taxi driver.

 

Date created : 2011-02-22

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