Thousands rally for political reform in Bahrain

Fri Jul 15, 2011 5:48pm GMT

MANAMA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Bahrainis shouting "one man, one vote" attended a rally for political reform held by a leading opposition party Friday, days before the group decide whether to pull out of national reform talks.

Bahrain's Sunni rulers have launched a national dialogue to discuss reforms and heal deep rifts in the Gulf island kingdom after ending a four-month crackdown on weeks of protests led by the Shi'ite majority early this year.

Waving Bahraini flags and raising their hands, some 30,000 people gathered to hear a speech by Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq. He said the group would decide Sunday whether to withdraw and called for reforms to ensure the people had a greater say in government.

"The real victory is reaching a national consensus on serious democratic reforms that meet popular demands for justice and produce security, stability and growth," he said, to the cheers of crowds who spilt into alleyways and climbed onto rooftops.

Thousands of Bahraini Shi'ites joined demonstrations in February and March to demand democratic reforms of Bahrain's constitutional monarchy -- prompting Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates to send troops to back the government's suppression of the protests.

Hundreds of people, mostly Shi'ites, were arrested and up to 2,000 were sacked from their jobs. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Bahrain Friday to investigate the dismissals, which it said might have been punishment for joining protests.

Bahrain announced last month that it would cancel 571 dismissals, but activists say those workers have yet to be given back their jobs.

Bahraini Shi'ites had long complained that the government discriminated against them in jobs and services, and accused the state of gerrymandering voting districts to limit their part in governing the country.

Some Sunnis say they share Shi'ites' economic grievances, and the government promised that all types of reform were on the table at the national dialogue which began two weeks ago.   Continued...

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