|Protesters in Bahrain entered the third week of their campaign against the island’s rulers [Reuters]|
Thousands of protesters have gathered outside the prime minister’s office in Bahrain to demand that he step down, as their campaign for reform in the tiny Gulf nation enters its fourth week.
The demonstrators massed on Sunday at the Al-Qudaibiya Palace in the capital, Manama, chanting slogans against the government and King Hamad, but failed to disrupt a government meeting in progress there.
Demonstrators shouted “Topple Hamad! Topple Hamad!” and “Hey Khalifa, get out! Get out!”, referring to the country’s long-time prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.
Al-Khalifa, who was presiding over a weekly meeting of government ministers inside the palace, later told the state-run Bahrain News Agency that changes are under way and the kingdom’s “reform march will continue”.
“The government’s development policies will continue upbeat as we are determined more than ever to achieve our goal of upgrading the citizens’ standards of living by providing them with the means of decent life,” he said.
The demonstrators want al-Khalifa to step down over alleged corruption and a deadly crackdown on the opposition in which seven people were killed.
“We want the prime minister to go,” Alaa al-Nasr, a 24-year-old demonstrator, was reported by the AFP news agency as saying.
Protesters on Sunday also chanted for the 2002 constitution, which they say gave too much power to the monarchy, to be scrapped.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Manama said there was a very large security presence inside the palace grounds.
“There are police helicopters circling protests, which are peaceful. Not only are protesters calling for a new government and a new constitution, but also for the royal family to go,” he said.
“The official opposition in parliament has accepted dialogue with the government whereas the protesters are calling for the compete overthrow of the monarchy.”
In addition to the protest at Al-Qudaibiya, demonstrators remain in hundreds of tents at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, which has become the epicentre of the anti-government protests which started 21 days ago.
Mansoor al-Arayedh, chairman of the Gulf Council for Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera that protests appeared likely to continue and urged the government to speed up its dealings with the opposition.
“I see more demonstrations coming in the following week. They government has called for dialogue with the opposition parties and most of civic society to reach some sort of compromise … the long this takes the more agitated civil society will be,” he said.
“I would welcome a situation that would allow the government to act in a faster way – maybe some sort of a privy council, at least initially,” said al-Arayedh, himself a former senator in Bahrain.
“It’s a constitutional monarchy so you can’t pretend it’s Egypt or Tunisia, it’s part of the GCC – that’s another element that needs to be looked at. The third thing is it’s a US ally and therefore stability becomes very important.”
Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s interior minister, told local newspaper editors Saturday that King Hamad had ordered the creation of 20,000 new jobs and called for a national dialogue.
“We hope this step will have a positive effect on the safety and security of citizens,” the al-Wasat newspaper quoted him as saying.
“The minister said national dialogue was the way to achieving political stability and of raising demands.”
Opposition figures said it interpreted the move as an attempt to appease Shia protesters who say they have been shut out of government jobs.
Bahrain’s Shia majority has long complained of discrimination and political persecution in the island kingdom. A Sunni dynasty has ruled Bahrain for two centuries.