Bahrain opposition seeks to ease sectarian tension

Calls for the march on the palace have been circulating among protesters.

Updated: Mar 11, 2011, 15:40 PM IST

Manama: Bahrain`s main opposition group called for the cancellation of a protest march on the royal palace scheduled for Friday, saying it was to avoid an escalation of sectarian tension in the kingdom.

Opposition leaders said the plan to march on the palace in a mainly Sunni area of the capital Manama risked provoking clashes between the Shi’ite majority and the Sunni minority.

"We said this is something (that) will increase the sectarian issues here in Bahrain, and we are against this," Ali al-Aswad, one of 18 now-resigned Islamic National Accord Association (INAA) MPs, said on Thursday.

"The seven political societies, they are against this march," said the MP, who resigned along with the other members of the bloc to protest the killing of demonstrators by security forces.

Calls for the march on the palace have been circulating among protesters but the specific group that originated the plan is not clear.

Activists at Pearl Square, which has become the epicentre of anti-government demonstrations, said the march on the palace was expected to be held anyway, despite the INAA`s opposition.

Another march calling for Bahrain`s 2002 Constitution to be scrapped is also planned for Friday. It is set to end at Pearl Square.

Seven people have died in unrest in the tiny Gulf kingdom, home of the US Fifth Fleet, that has been gripped by anti-government protests since February 14.

Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa family but has a Shi’ite Muslim majority which has been at the forefront of the protests.

More than 1,000 people massed at a UN building in Manama on Thursday for a rally called to urge the United Nations to put pressure on Bahrain`s government, but it was dominated by slogans against the ruling regime.

"The people want to topple the regime!" chanted the flag-waving crowd.

The protest movement in Bahrain comes amid a wave of pro-democracy unrest that has gripped the region for weeks and toppled autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.

The INAA, also known as Wefaq, and other main opposition organisations have stopped short of demanding the downfall of Bahrain`s monarchy, instead calling for major reforms.

Sectarian clashes were reported on March 03 but slogans calling for Sunni-Shiite unity are also frequently chanted at anti-regime marches and rallies.

Bureau Report