Shias rally behind popular movement in Bahrain

AFP , Wednesday 16 Mar 2011

Shia figures rally in solidarity across the Middle East, condemning violence against peaceful protesters and GCC intervention in Bahrain

Gulf Cooperation Council forces move into Pearl Square to evacuate anti-government protesters, in Manama, Wednesday, (Reuters).

From Iran to Saudi Arabia and through the Iraqi city of Najaf, Shia in the Middle East rallied Wednesday behind Shia protesters in Bahrain against a violent crackdown by the ruling Sunni dynasty.

In Shia-majority Iraq, a leading authority of the sect called for an immediate halt to the deadly crackdown in Bahrain.

"We condemn this irresponsible act," Basheer Al-Najafi, one of Iraq's four top Shia authorities, said in a statement from his base in the Shrine city of Najaf in central Iraq.

Early Wednesday, hundreds of Bahraini riot police backed by tanks and helicopters fired shotguns and tear gas at demonstrators in Manama's Pearl Square, clearing the symbolic heart of the uprising in the strategic Gulf kingdom.

Bahrain's mainly Shia opposition said at least three protesters were killed and dozens wounded in the violent assault.

"We were surprised that the Bahraini government asked for forces from neighbouring countries, who targetted villages and people who had raised slogans of peace, and were targetted by gunfire and mortars," Najafi said.

Armed forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates rolled into Bahrain on Monday at the invitation of the Sunni monarchy to help Manama deal with Shia-led protesters.

The assault on protesters prompted radical Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr to call for protests in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra Wednesday and nationwide demonstrations Friday, "in support of the people of Bahrain," his office said.

Only hours after the call, some 2,000 Sadr supporters staged a demonstration in central Basra, carrying Iraqi flags, portraits of Sadr and banners condemning the bloodshed in Bahrain.

"Stop shedding the blood of Bahrainis and Arabs," read one banner. "We demand a stop to Arab and foreign intervention in Bahrain," proclaimed another.

Sadr Al-Deen Al-Qubbanchi, another Shia cleric in Najaf, said that the protests in Bahrain were not simply a Shia uprising but a "popular movement," and condemned the military intervention there.

"It is an intervention to protect a weak political regime, instead of helping the people," he said.

Iran, which sees itself as the beacon of Islam and champion of the world's estimated 100 million Shia Muslims, condemned the "mobilisation against the population in Bahrain," calling it "heinous, unjustifiable and incomprehensible."

"How can those who use weapons against their people want to govern them?" Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, quoted by the state news agency.

Iran has been especially rattled by the military intervention in Bahrain by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"This expedition is a very foul and doomed experience and regional nations will hold the American government responsible for this," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

In Kuwait, where Shias make up around 30 per cent of the 1.15 million citizens, Shia MPs strongly slammed the Gulf Cooperation Council for sending troops to crush the protests.

Shia MP Saleh Ashur warned he would question the prime minister in parliament if Kuwaiti troops also were dispatched to help the Manama rulers.

Sunni MPs, however, praised the move and called on the Kuwaiti government to rush forces.

On Wednesday, about a dozen Shia women gathered outside the Bahraini embassy in Kuwait City in protest at the crackdown.

Lebanon's Shia resistance group Hezbollah, meanwhile, said the military intervention in Bahrain would hamper peaceful solutions.

"Military intervention and the use of force against a peaceful popular movement will not lead to a solution and will complicate matters while hampering chances of finding a solution," the party said in a statement late Tuesday.

Hezbollah said it was concerned about attacks against protesters and questioned Washington's role in the latest developments.

In Saudi Arabia, a few hundred Shia protesters on Tuesday took to the streets near Qateef in the oil-rich Eastern Province in solidarity with Bahraini Shia, an activist told AFP.

Shia make up around 10 per cent of the 18 million native Saudis and are concentrated in the eastern province bordering Bahrain.

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