Bahraini regime fuels tension, protests continue

March 5, 2011 - 0:0

MANANA— Thousands of anti-government demonstrators streamed toward the headquarters of Bahrain's state television Friday after sectarian clashes between regime-backed Sunnis and the majority Shiites leading protests in the strategic Persian Gulf nation.

According to AP, the street fighting was brief, but it underscored the tensions building after nearly three weeks of unrest that has left the tiny island kingdom in a stalemate between the Al-Khalifa regime and Shiite-led opposition who claim widespread discrimination and demand a greater voice in the nation's affairs.
Demonstrators converged on Bahrain TV headquarters outside the capital, Manama, chanting slogans against the Sunni dynasty that has ruled for more than 200 years. Some women carried roses and placed them on the wall outside the TV compound.
The clash late Thursday between government- backed Sunnis and Shiites adds to fears that Bahrain could be dragged deeper into a sectarian conflict between Sunnis backing the monarchy and Shiites who represent 70 percent of the population.
But one of several Shiites injured, 23-year-old Hussein Badr, said the attackers appeared to Sunnis from other parts of the Arab world who were given Bahraini nationality under a policy to boost Sunni numbers.
""They were naturalized Bahrainis and they were beating us hard,"" Badr told The Associated Press from his hospital bed after being treated for a broken jaw and bruises across his body.
He said the attackers, in the mixed Sunni-Shiite suburb of Hamad Town, carried knives, glass bottles and chains.
He also claimed the police stood by ""and did nothing to help us.""
The protesters appear inflexible on their core demand to oust the prime minister and the rest of the Cabinet.
They also are calling to reshape Bahrain's political system as a constitutional monarchy in which the king would hand over many powers — including the ability to appoint top political positions — to an elected parliament.
Bahraini opposition to enter talks
In another development, opposition groups in Bahrain say they are prepared to accept the ruling family's offer of entering into a dialogue to address their political greivances, after weeks of protests in the country.
According to Aljazeera, Abdul Jalil Khalil, a senior leader of the Shia opposition, said on Thursday the monarchy's opponents are now ready to accept an offer that was made by the crown-prince.
""We will talk to the crown prince, but we are not going to sit together for a casual chat, but for a meaningful dialogue only,"" said Khalil, a leader of Bahrain's main oppostion Al Wefaq bloc.
Six opposition groups have set conditions for the dialogue, which have been received by the Crown Prince, the government confirmed. A government statement said that despite ""substantial differences between the various groups and parties"", a ""political consensus"" must be reached.
The conditions include the abolition of the 2002 constitution and ""the election of a constitutional assembly for drafting a new basic law"" for the country, an opposition spokesman told media earlier on Thursday.
The opposition wants citizens to be able to elect a parliament with full legislative powers.
The final condition is that the outcomes of the dialogue are guaranteed to be applied and respected.
One of the other major discussion points during talks will be the opposition's earlier stated demand that the current government be replaced in response to the killing of protesters who turned out in mass demonstrations which began on February 14.
Currently, only one house of Bahrain's parliament is elected, but it holds limited authority, and its status is in limbo after 18 Al Wefaq lawmakers walked out of the 40-member body in protest against the killing of protesters