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Bahrain protesters take control of main square
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The bloodshed already has brought sharp denunciations from the largest Shi'ite political bloc, which suspended its participation in parliament, and could threaten the nation’s gradual pro-democracy reforms that have given Shi’ites a greater political voice.
The second day of turmoil began after police tried to disperse up to 10,000 mourners gathering at a hospital parking lot to begin a funeral procession for Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, 21, who died in Monday’s marches.
Officials at Bahrain’s Salmaniya Medical Complex said a 31-year-old man became the second fatality when he died of injuries from birdshot fired during the melee in the hospital’s parking lot. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to journalists.
After the clash, riot police eventually withdrew and allowed the massive funeral cortege for Mushaima to proceed from the main state-run medical facility in Manama. He was killed Monday during clashes with security forces trying to halt marches to demand greater freedoms and political rights. At least 25 people were injured in the barrage of rubber bullets, birdshot and tear gas, relatives said.
The main Shi'ite opposition group, Al Wefaq, denounced the “bullying tactics and barbaric policies pursued by the security forces” and said it was suspending its participation in parliament, where it holds 18 of the 40 seats.
The declaration falls short of pulling out the group’s lawmakers, which would spark a full-scale political crisis. But Al Wefaq warned that it could take more steps if violence persists against marchers staging the first major rallies in the Gulf since uprisings toppled long-ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
A statement from Bahrain’s interior minister, Lt. Gen. Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, expressed “sincere condolences and deep sympathy” to Mushaima’s family. He expanded on the king’s pledge: stressing that the deaths will be investigated and charges would be filed if authorities determined excessive force was used against the protesters.
But that’s unlikely to appease the protesters, whose “day of rage” Monday coincided with major anti-government demonstrations in Iran and Yemen.
In the past week, Bahrain’s rulers have attempted to defuse calls for reform by promising nearly $2,700 for each family and pledging to loosen state controls on the media.
State media reported that the king telephoned the head of Egypt’s ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, on Tuesday. No further details were given, but Bahrain had earlier appealed for an emergency summit of Arab leaders to discuss the widening protests.
Bahrain’s ruling Sunni dynasty also has extremely close ties with the leadership in Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain by a causeway. Bahrain has given citizenship to Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and across the region to bolster its ranks against the country’s Shiite majority.
Bahrain’s Sunni leaders point to parliamentary elections as a symbol of political openness. But many Sunnis in Bahrain also are highly suspicious of Shi’ite activists, claiming they seek to undermine the state and have cultural bonds with Shi'ite heavyweight Iran.
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