Monday, 21 February 2011

Bahrain reject royals

Bahrain protesters seek to overthrow royal family 

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP): A group of protesters on Monday called for the ouster of Bahrain's entire ruling monarchy as part of sweeping demands to call off the weeklong uprising in the tiny, but strategically important Gulf nation.

Tensions are still running high in Bahrain after seesaw battles that saw riot police open fire on protesters trying to reclaim landmark Pearl Square last week.

At least seven people have been killed and hundreds injured in the clashes since the unrest spilling across the Arab world reached the Gulf last week.

Bahrain holds particular importance to Washington as the host of the US Navy's 5th Fleet, which is the main US military counterweight to Iran's efforts to expand its armed forces and reach into the Gulf.

The manifesto Monday from a group calling itself "Youth of Feb. 14" - after the day of the first marches - apparently seeks to stake out an uncompromising stance before possible talks between the opposition and the monarchy.

"We demand the overthrow of the oppressive Al Khalifa regime," the manifesto said, referring to the ruling royal family. "The people will choose the system they will be subjected to."

It is unclear how much weight the group, made up mostly of the hundreds of youth camped out on Pearl Square, carries. Nor is it clear what their relationship is with the official Shiite opposition that includes 18 members of the 40-member parliament who resigned in protest on Thursday.

But their manifesto shows the range of demands among the opposition, from the all-or-nothing youth group to others who would let the monarchy survive but with many of its powers and privileges turned over to the elected parliament.

In the statement, the youth group called for authorities to be put on trial for attacks on protesters last week and demanded an elected government.

They said the first priority should be the cancellation of citizenship for thousands of foreigners, who were granted Bahraini nationality as part of an effort to change the sectarian balance in the island nation.

Few policies anger Bahrain's Shiite majority more than bestowing citizenship to outside Sunnis, mostly Arabs but also from Pakistan and other South Asian countries.

Shiites in Bahrain have often complained of discrimination by the Sunni rulers. The Al Khalifa royal dynasty has been in power for 200 years and has strong backing from other Gulf Arab leaders, who fear that Shiite powerhouse Iran could gain further footholds through the uprising led by Bahrain's Shiites.

Bahrain's rulers have offered talks with opposition groups to try to defuse the showdown, but the opposition appears to be in no hurry to talk with Crown Prince Sheik Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who has been delegated by the king to lead the dialogue.

The leaders of the official Shiite opposition said they are not refusing to talk to the crown prince, but want guarantees the rulers' words will be backed by action after they meet.

Their main demand is the resignation of the government that is responsible for this week's bloodshed and has been led by the same prime minister - the king's uncle - for 40 years.

Other demands include abolishing the monarchy's privileges to set policies and appoint all key political posts, along with addressing long-standing claims of discrimination and abuses against Shiites, who represent about 70 percent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens.

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