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Middle East
Bahrain protesters hold ground
Anti-government protests continue in tiny kingdom, despite apology by king for the deaths of two demonstrators.
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2011 08:57 GMT
Al Jazeera correspondent says police were heavy-handed with the protesters [Skin photo: AFP]

Anti-government protesters are continuing to occupy a roundabout in Manama, Bahrain's capital, after two days of violent clashes left at least two demonstrators dead.

The protesters, pressing for a host of demands including political reforms and better human rights in the kingdom, are refusing to disperse, despite a rare apology from the king over the deaths in police firing.

An Al Jazeera correspondent in Bahrain, who cannot be named for his own safety, said that thousands of protesters were occupying a major landmark on Wednesday.

The funeral procession of the man killed on Tuesday attracted thousands of protesters [Redha Haji]

"They are well organised and say that they will make Manama's Pearl Roundabout Bahrain's version of Egypt's Tahrir Square."

He said that protesters also held a funeral procession for the man who was killed during Tuesday's protest.

"The funeral procession left from the hospital and there were no police in sight."

He said that the police allowed the march to continue without interfering.

On Tuesday, Bahrain's ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa made a rare television appearance in which he expressed his condolences for "the deaths of two of our dear sons" and said a committee would investigate the killings.
 
"We will ask legislators to look into this issue and suggest needed laws to resolve it," he said, adding that peaceful protests were legal.

'Speech too late'

But Nabeel Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Centre for Human rights, told Al Jazeera that the king's speech "was too late".

"People were expecting him to come out and meet the demands of the people - but he did not talk about how he will address the demands of the people.

Country profile: Bahrain

"People don't want only an investigation about the two killings - they want change," he said.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the tiny kingdom since Monday, inspired by the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

While one protester was killed on Monday, another died the next day when police opened fire at his funeral procession.

The second victim was identified as Fadhel Ali Almatrook and our correspondent said he seemed to have been shot at from very close range.

Our correspondent said that police took a very heavy-handed approach towards the protesters.
 
"Police fired on the protesters this [Tuesday] morning, but they showed very strong resistance," he said.

The US said it was "very concerned" by recent violence in protests in Bahrain, a close ally of Washington, and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

"The United States is very concerned by recent violence surrounding protests in Bahrain," PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said in a statement. "We also call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence."

Angry opposition

Angered by the two deaths, al-Wefaq, Bahrain's main Shia Muslim opposition group, announced it was suspending its participation in parliament. 

"This is the first step. We want to see dialogue," Ibrahim Mattar, an al-Wefaq parliamentarian, said. "In the coming days, we are either going to resign from the council or continue." 

A blogger said people from all backgrounds and religions were behind the protests [Mahmood Nasser Al-Yousif]

Al-Wefaq has a strong presence inside the parliament and within the Shia community.

The protesters say their main demand is the resignation of Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the prime minister, who has governed Bahrain since its independence in 1971.
 
An uncle of the king, he is seen as a symbol of the wealth of the ruling family.
 
The protesters say they are also demanding the release of political prisoners, which the government has promised, and the creation of a new constitution.

Shias, thought to be in the majority in Bahrain, are ruled by a Sunni royal family.

Poverty, high unemployment and alleged attempts by the state to grant citizenship to Sunni foreigners to change the demographic balance have intensified discontent among the Shias.
 
Around half of the kingdom's 1.3 million people are Bahraini, with the rest being foreign workers. 

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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