Bahraini protesters demand release of prisoners

March 3, 2011 - 0:0

MANAMA (Agencies) — Thousands of anti-regime protesters marched on the Interior Ministry in Bahrain's capital Manama, demanding the release of all political prisoners and ouster of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Wednesday's protest was peaceful, and a pro-government rally was planned for later in the day.
Last week, Bahrain's king released 23 high-profile activists who had been on trial for allegedly trying to overthrow the monarchy.
The Shia opposition claims at least 200 others remain jailed for political reasons.
The Persian Gulf nation's embattled monarchy has felt increasing pressure as protesters have staged daily marches for change in the strategic island, the host of U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Many protesters are calling for an elected government, and demanding the Khalifa family rulers -- who have ruled Bahrain's Shia majority for 200 years -- step aside.
Struggle to define goals
Bahrain's royal rulers have been saying for more than a week they are willing to talk with what has proved to be a resilient opposition movement. They have made little headway so far.
Anti-government protesters have been amplifying their calls for change by staging thousands-strong daily marches, increasingly into the capital's central business district. Protest signs hanging from tent posts and makeshift food stalls in Pearl Square where many are camped out offer scant evidence they are willing to talk. “No dialogue with dictators” reads one.
Some groups, Al Wefaq, are pushing for democratic reforms within the existing political system, which is dominated by members of the Sunni royal family and its allies.
Many of the mostly young demonstrators who have taken over Pearl Square want more. They are let down by what they see as unfulfilled promises of reforms over the past decade, and are appalled by the government's willingness to use lethal force to clear the square earlier this month.
“There is a problem of trust. People here don't trust the king,” said Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, an independent activist and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “People, especially the opposition, feel they were stabbed in the back. So now it's very, very difficult to convince people in the street to go and sit with the crown prince and the king to negotiate the solution.”
The lack of trust can be traced in part to the introduction of a new constitution in 2002 that opposition supporters say undid promised democratic reforms outlined in a widely popular referendum a year earlier.
There also appears to be little appetite for retaining as prime minister the king's uncle, Sheik Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has held the post for four decades.
Established opposition parties are coming together to lay out a set of unified demands. They question the government's willingness to give ground but appear open to negotiations.
“We don't want a dialogue for the sake of dialogue, but a dialogue that results in a solution that satisfies all parties,” said Sheik Ali Salman, the leader of Al Wefaq.
The major opposition parties want the existing parliament to be dissolved and replaced with a constitutional monarchy governed by elected representatives.
Photo: A protester wearing a scarf gestures in front of the main gate of the Interior Ministry during demonstrations in Manama March 2, 2011. (Photo: AP)