Bahrainis to bury a dead protester amid regime crackdown

Reuters , Friday 18 Mar 2011

Hundreds of Bahrainis protest against King Hammed's regime despite a government ban on demonstrations

Libya

Hundreds of Bahrainis gathered on Friday to bury an activist killed in a crackdown on mainly Shi'ite Muslim protesters that has angered Iran and raised tension in the world's largest oil-exporting region.

Mourners carrying black flags and pictures of activist Ahmed Farhan, killed on Wednesday, waited at the cemetery for his body to arrive. No security forces were present, but a helicopter buzzed overhead and it was unclear if police would disperse the mourners under a blanket ban on public gatherings.

Funerals of protesters killed in a crackdown last month drew thousands of mourners who shouted anti-government slogans, but opposition leaders have advised people this time to avoid clashing with security forces and disperse if asked to do so.

"This is a big loss... They can say what they want about us but we are non-violent. We will never use violence," said Yousif Hasan Ali, who was in jail with Farhan, 30, for over two years.

"They may silence this generation but another will rise up to demand revenge for the blood that was shed now."

Bahrain has arrested seven opposition leaders and driven pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets after weeks of protests that prompted the king to declare martial law and led to the arrival of troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Three protesters died in the security sweep. Three policemen were also killed, hit by cars driven by demonstrators.

The crackdown has provoked sympathy protests by Shi'ites across the region, including in top oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which has sent more than 1,000 troops into its tiny neighbour.

Shi'ite Muslim power Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon, has complained to the United Nations and asked other neighbours to join it in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw.

"How could one accept a government to invite foreign military forces to suppress its own citizens?" Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also addressed to the Arab League.

In a sign of rising tension, Bahrain replied: "Iran's move does not serve security and stability in the Gulf region."

Iran's call was echoed on Thursday by Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of Bahrain's largest Shi'ite Muslim party Wefaq.

Sheikh Issa Qassim, Bahrain's most influential Shi'ite cleric, said in his Friday sermon that Gulf troops would have been better off helping Palestinians in Gaza than entering Bahrain and thanked those who died or resigned in the uprising.

"Despite these policies of arrests and fabrications against our people we will continue and we will be patient," he said.

FRIDAY PRAYERS

No troops or police could be seen as thousands of worshippers stood outside Draz mosque after Qassim's sermon, calling for Gulf troops to leave and vowing to fight what they called this "corrupt and oppressive regime." "Peninsula Shield Out," they called, and "Bahrain is free."

The protest was over in less than half an hour and worshippers dispersed to attend the funeral.

More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites. Most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy, but calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest serves Iran, located across a short stretch of Gulf waters from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Analysts say the intervention of Saudi Arabia, which worries that protests by Bahraini Shi'ites will incite its own Shi'ite minority, could worsen already poor ties with Iran.

One woman praying at Draz said she was Sunni: "The government is making this a sectarian issue. I see the way my friends are treated and I came here to show solidarity."

Oil jumped more than $1 to $116 on fears of rising geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and North Africa. Capital flight is starting to put pressure on Bahrain's currency and threaten its position as a Gulf financial centre.

Most Western nations have urged their citizens to leave. The ferocity of the crackdown, in which troops and police fanned out across Bahrain, imposed a curfew and banned all public gatherings and marches, has stunned Bahrain's Shi'ites.

Opposition groups have said they will press on with peaceful resistance, standing outside their homes at certain hours, flying the flag from their rooftops and calling "Allahu Akbar", or "God is Great", from rooftops at night. It was not clear what else they could do without provoking a confrontation.

Showing its desire to avoid new violence, Wefaq told its followers by text message not to provoke security forces by carrying sticks and not to use slogans that offended the royal family or the king.

Those detained on Wednesday night included Haq leader Hassan Mushaima and Wafa leader Abdel Wahhab Hussein, who had led calls for the overthrow of the royal family, Wefaq officials said.

Wefaq had limited its demands to constitutional and political reform. Also arrested was Ibrahim Sharif, the Sunni head of the secular Left party Waad that shared Wefaq's demands.

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