Manama: Bahrain`s most senior Shiite cleric
on Friday warned the Gulf kingdom`s rulers to either ease their
grip on power or risk joining Libya`s Muammar Gaddafi and
other Arab leaders swept aside by uprisings.
The sermon by Sheik Isa Qassim was attended by thousands
of worshippers, and was a show of defiance after Bahrain`s
Justice Minister accused the cleric of promoting unrest in the
strategic island nation, which is home to the US Navy`s 5th
A police helicopter hovered low over the crowds spilling
from the mosque after the service. Some worshippers unfurled
banners saying "We will never submit to anyone but God" and
warning that government pressure on Qassim is "political
Qassim vowed he would never be silenced, and said it was
his religious duty to support demands by Bahrain`s majority
Shiites for greater rights and a stronger voice in how the
country is run.
Bahrain`s ruling Sunni dynasty, which has conducted
sweeping crackdowns on protests since February, opened
reconciliation talks in July to examine possible political
But the moves have not gone far enough for Shiite-led
demonstrators seeking to break the Sunni rulers` monopoly on
picking government officials and setting policies.
"Can`t they learn from the fall of dictatorships and see
what happens to those who denied their people basic rights?"
Qassim told worshippers.
"We now see what happens to the Libyan dictator, just as
what happened to Tunisian and Egyptian despots."
Shiites comprise about 70 per cent of Bahrain`s
population, but complain of systematic discrimination
including being blocked from top political or security posts.
Earlier this week, Justice Minister Khaled bin Ali Al
Khalifa sent a letter to Qassim, accusing him of using his
mosque for "intervening in politics and promoting violence."
At least 32 people have been killed since protests began
in February, inspired by other Arab uprisings.
A panel of international investigators is looking into
claims of abuses and is expected to issue its report October
"There is no exit to the crisis except through political
reform," said Qassim. "To run away from this fact will not
solve anything and to delay reforms will only deepen the