Hundreds of opposition supporters have marched across the nation of Bahrain to demand greater rights for the country’s Shia population, with some calling for the removal of the Sunni-ruled regime, witnesses said.
Police on Friday fired tear gas at about 100 protesters who tried to march to Manama’s Pearl Square, which was the centre of the mainly Shia-led revolt last year.
The Wefaq Party, the main Shia bloc, has been demanding greater human rights for prisoners detained during demonstrations last year.
The opposition also called for the implementation of recommendations made by an international probe into last year’s crackdown on the uprising.
Most protesters chanted slogans demanding reform, but some called for the “fall of the regime” and others shouted abuse at the ruling Sunni dynasty.
“Down, down, Hamad”, they chanted in reference to the ruler of Bahrain, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa.
They also demanded the removal of Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman, the king’s uncle, who has been in the post for 40 years.
Protesters carried Bahraini flags as well as banners splashed with slogans demanding reform, the witnesses said.
‘Readiness for dialogue’
A statement from the Shia-led opposition said protests will continue until “the oppressive” regime is replaced by “a democratic state”.
“Popular movements will continue until the era of the security-based oppressive state is over and is replaced by a civil, democratic state based on freedom, democracy and social justice,” said the statement which was also signed by the Al-Wefaq.
On Tuesday the king pledged to press on with political reforms, more than a year after quelling the uprising.
After receiving a report on progress in implementing the probe’s recommendations, he said their implementation “reflects Bahrain’s commitment to reform in all fields”.
On Monday, Bahrain’s five main Shia opposition associations, led by Al-Wefaq, expressed their readiness for dialogue with the authorities.
But they demanded a referendum on the outcome and said the dialogue must include opposition leaders jailed in the wake of last year’s crackdown.
About 35 people were killed in last year’s unrest, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death, according to an independent commission ordered by the king last June, and tensions have since remained high.