Thousands of Bahrainis march, demand rights

Fri Sep 9, 2011 6:09pm GMT

MANAMA (Reuters) - Some 20,000 protesters marched near the Bahraini capital of Manama on Friday, shouting anti-government slogans and vowing to stick to their calls for democratic reforms in the Gulf island ruled by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

"Down, down Hamad," they chanted, waving Bahraini flags and raising their fists in the air as police helicopters buzzed overhead.

Small-scale protests and clashes with security forces have erupted almost daily outside Manama, in the villages where Bahrain's majority Shi'ite population mostly resides.

Tensions have been simmering since the Sunni-ruled kingdom, which hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, quashed mass pro-democracy protests this March. Anxieties are also now rising ahead of a by-election scheduled for later this September.

The election aims to fill seats of parliamentarians from the largest Shi'ite party, Wefaq, who resigned en masse when Bahrain used force against the protests. The government said the demonstrations had a sectarian agenda instigated by its regional Shi'ite rival Iran.

The Friday March, organised by Wefaq, was entitled, "No backing down, we are insistent on our demands."

The mostly Shi'ite-led protesters have demanded a greater share in government as well more powers for the legislature, whose authority is neutered by an upper council appointed by the king.

The government tried to respond by launching a National Dialogue to initiate reforms, but many Shi'ites and opposition figures criticised the talks as cosmetic. Wefaq eventually pulled out of the dialogue.

Friday's march comes a week after thousands took to the streets to protest the death of a 14-year-old boy who activists said was killed after being hit by a tear gas canister at a protest outside Manama. The government denied police were responsible for the boy's death.   Continued...

People shout anti-government slogans during a rally held by the main opposition al-Wefaq party in Budaiya, west of Manama September 9, 2011.     REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
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