Bahraini protesters besiege PM office

March 7, 2011 - 0:0

MANAMA — Thousands of opposition supporters blocked the entrance to the prime minister's office but failed to disrupt a government meeting on Sunday as the campaign for reform in the strategic Persian Gulf nation enters its third week.

The protesters demanded the prime minister step down because of corruption and a deadly crackdown on the opposition in which seven people were killed, AP reported.
Sheik Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the prime minister and the king's uncle has been in power for 40 years, part of a dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries.
Khalifa was presiding over a weekly meeting of government ministers on Sunday.
The mainly Shia opposition groups have called for a constitutional monarchy, but some of the protesters camped out in the capital's Pearl Square are demanding that the Khalifa monarchy step aside altogether.
Currently, one house of Bahrain's parliament is the only elected body, but it holds limited authority since all the country's decisions -- including the appointment of government ministers -- rest with the king.
Even the 40-member institution has been in limbo since the 18 opposition legislators resigned last month to protest the government's deadly crackdown.
Bahrain holds particular importance to Washington as the host of U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, one of the main American military bases in the region.
The king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has taken some steps to end the revolt, rattling one of the wealthiest corners of the Middle East where it was long assumed that oil riches would stave off the kind of unrest that has roiled Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.
Hamad assigned Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa to lead talks with the opposition.
Opposition leaders have accepted Salman's invitation for talks, but no date has been set for them to meet.
Unemployment is particularly high among Shia youth. They complain of government jobs often being given to Sunnis from Arab countries and Pakistan, who were granted Bahraini nationality to boost Sunni numbers in the Persian Gulf nation.
Bahrain to create 20,000 jobs
Plans by Bahrain to create 20,000 jobs in its security apparatus could be a move to open up government jobs to the country's disgruntled Shias and appease protesters against the Sunni-led government.
Bahrain's Minister of Interior Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa told local newspaper editors that King Hamad had ordered a round of new hires in a number of government institutions, including 20,000 jobs in his ministry, Reuters reported.
The opposition said it interpreted the announcement as an attempt to appease Shia protesters who say government jobs have been shut to them.
“I think it's mainly meant for Shias, in particular for the coming graduates. Unequal opportunities is one reason why we're having people in the street,” Jasim Husain of Wefaq, the main Shia opposition group, said.
There is no official figure of how many are employed by Bahrain's armed forces and its police and security forces. Officials at the Ministry of Interior declined to comment but said details of the plans would be released later this week.
Bahrain has granted citizenship to Sunni foreigners serving in its armed forces, limiting the number of secure government jobs its Shia population can potentially access.
The practice has long been a bone of contention for the opposition who see it as an attempt to alter the sectarian balance, an accusation the government denies.
Clashes erupted last week between residents in Hamad Town, an area where both Shias and Sunni live, including foreigners who were granted citizenship.
Bahrain's opposition groups, including Wefaq, demand the resignation of the government and a new constitutional monarchy. Currently, parliament has little powers, cabinet is appointed by the king and most ministers are from the ruling family.
But many of the thousands in Bahrain's youth movement who are occupying Manama's Pearl Square and staging daily protests want the complete ouster of the ruling family.
Photo: A Bahraini girl holds a sign as she participates in a human chain Saturday, March 5, 2011. The sign reads: “My father is Sunni, my mother is Shia. I am non-sectarian.” (AP Photo