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Bahrain Shiites demand transition; unrest in Libya, Yemen
Manama/Tripoli/ Sanaa, Feb 18 (Agencies):
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Published on 18 Feb. 2011 11:54 PM IST
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A senior leader of Bahrain’s Shiites said the government must resign and parliament shut down pending a transition to democracy in an address to the biggest crowd in five days of protests as unrest spread to Libya and Yemen.
Abdulwahab Hussain told more than 10,000 demonstrators in front of a mosque in Sitra, south of the capital, Manama, that the minister of the interior should be tried after at least five people were killed in a police crackdown on the protests. “The government is unstable,” he said. “The police can’t break the will of the people.”
Earlier, thousands of mostly Shiite Muslims attended the funeral of two protesters, hugging their coffins and shouting: “We sacrifice for Bahrain.” Government supporters staged counter-demonstrations in Manama today.
The dissent in the Persian Gulf island state that is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet follows the toppling of autocratic rulers by popular movements in Egypt and Tunisia and marks the spread of dissent into the Persian Gulf, where most of the Middle East’s oil is produced. The past week has also seen anti-government protests and clashes in Libya, Africa’s biggest holder of crude oil reserves, and Yemen, a producer of liquefied natural gas. Brent crude futures this week rose to the highest level since 2008.
Supporters of Bahrain’s government drove their cars near the U.S. Navy headquarters in Manama, waving the national flag and pictures of the royal family.
Bahrain’s Shiites make up some 60 to 70 percent of the population, which is about 740,000 according to the CIA World Factbook. They claim discrimination by the country’s Sunni ruling family and its supporters.
The army fired teargas, buckshot and rubber bullets in an overnight crackdown yesterday, targeting a crowd of protesters gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama calling for a constitutional monarchy and a change of government in the Shiite-majority country ruled by Sunni royals. Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the focus of the demonstrators’ demands, has held the office for four decades.
“They started firing from the bridge without any warning, then they started firing from their cars,” said Hussein Ali, 42, who was at a rally site at 3 a.m. yesterday when security forces arrived. “There were women and children in tents. I saw cars running over tents. It was terrifying, a nightmare. Small children and women were falling over.”
The police attack “has broke up and fragmented protests, but you could still get people who aren’t broken and find another catalytic moment,” said Scott Lucas, professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham in England. “They just need to find a gathering point.”
45 killed in Libya protests
In Libya, security forces were expecting violent demonstrations Friday, a day after an estimated 45 people were killed in clashes across the country.
Online postings by opposition groups called for demonstrations against the country’s ruler of 41 years Muammer Gaddafi to start after Friday prayers.
Violent clashes erupted between demonstrators and security forces across the country Thursday in what opposition organisers had billed as a “Day of Anger”.
Videos posted online appeared to show the bodies of several young men in different locations, and hundreds of demonstrators tearing down a monument in honour of Gaddafi’s Green Book in the eastern coastal town of Tobruk.
In the Green Book, first published in 1975, Gaddafi outlines his philosophy of direct democracy through popular committees. Critics say that he actually uses those committees for political repression.
Coverage of the unrest in the Libyan media has shown pro-government demonstrators taking to the streets to proclaim their support for the country’s leaders.
Gunfire in Yemen
Gunfire broke out in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on the eighth straight day of anti-government demonstrations. More than 20,000 protesters streamed out of Friday prayers toward the presidential palace, overwhelming police efforts to contain them. “After Mubarak, Ali,” they chanted, calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit.
Saleh said this month he won’t seek another term when the current one ends in 2013. “A number” of people have been killed since demonstrations began, the official Saba news agency said yesterday, without elaborating.
Bahrain’s authorities said the intervention by security forces was necessary to restore order.
“The country was on the brink of a sectarian abyss,” Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said at a press conference yesterday. “It was a very important step that had to happen. Police took every care possible.”
Fitch Ratings put Bahrain on rating watch negative, saying the unrest “has created economic and political uncertainties, which increase the risks to the sovereign’s credit profile,” according to a statement from Purvi Harlalka, the director of the agency’s Middle East and Africa Sovereign Ratings Group.

 
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