Bahrain protesters take control of main square

Thousands of protesters poured into a main square in Bahrain`s capital.

Updated: Feb 16, 2011, 00:35 AM IST

Dubai: Thousands of protesters on Monday
poured into a main square in Bahrain`s capital in an
Egypt-style rebellion that sharply escalated pressure on
authorities as the Arab push for change gripped the Gulf for
the first time.

Security forces have battled demonstrators over two
days, leading to the deaths of two protesters. In a clear sign
of concern over the widening crisis, Bahrain`s King Hamad bin
Isa Al Khalifa made a rare national TV address, offering
condolences for the deaths, pledging an investigation into the
killings, and promising to push ahead with reforms, which
include loosening state controls on the media and Internet.

As the crowds surged into Pearl Square in the capital
of Manama, security forces appeared to hold back. The dramatic
move today comes just hours after a second protester died in
clashes with police in the strategic island kingdom, which is
home to the US Navy`s 5th Fleet.

Oppositions groups are calling for greater political
freedom and an end to the ruling Sunni monarchy`s grip on key
decisions and government posts. The nation`s majority Shiites
have long complained of discrimination.

Many in the square, which was quickly renamed the
"Nation`s Square" by protesters, waved Bahraini flags and
chanted, "No Sunnis, no Shiites. We are all Bahrainis."

Bahrain is one of the most politically volatile
nations in the Middle East`s wealthiest corner. A prolonged
showdown could draw in the region`s two biggest rivals: Saudi
Arabia, as close allies of Bahrain`s Sunni monarchy, and Iran,
whose hard-liners have spoken in support of the nation`s
Shiite majority.

The bloodshed already has brought sharp denunciations
from the largest Shiite political bloc, which suspended its
participation in parliament, and could threaten the nation`s
gradual pro-democracy reforms over the past decade.

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 Moday`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 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 yesterday during clashes with security forces trying to
halt marches to demand greater freedoms and political
rights.

PTI