Manama, Bahrain – Nearly a month after the first large-scale protests in Bahrain were violently quelled by police, the country has seen a resurgence of protest and calls for the king to step down. After thousands of people protested around the city against the king and his regime Sunday, the island’s royal family is expected to invite forces from Saudi Arabia into the country.
Demonstrators flooded into the city’s Pearl Roundabout, where they have been camped out since the initial clashes in mid-February. Two-hundred and fifty protesters attempted to set up camp near Manama’s financial district and more than 5,000 students clashed with pro-government protesters at Bahrain University on Sunday. An unknown number of people were injured in the protests, but it is unclear how seriously.
Police block the main city road around the Pearl Roundabout. (Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
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The country’s monarchy and government is dominated by Sunni Muslims, who are a minority in the country. The Shiite majority, around 70 percent of the kingdom’s 525,000 residents, have staged protests in recent years to highlight discrimination, unemployment and corruption and were reported to be a large proportion of the opposition parties leading the protests.
Aerial views of protesters clashing with police. (Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
In Saudi Arabia, where about 15 percent of the population is Shiite, the discontent is being closely watched.
Unrest continued around the Middle East over the weekend as protests in Yemen left four people dead and the US backed a no-fly zone over Libya, which has seen increasingly deadly battles between rebels and pro-government troops. These are part of the large wave of discontent that has swept the Arab world since the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted by mass protests earlier this year.
(Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
The Bahraini unrest came a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the island kingdom, which houses the US Fifth Fleet. Gates said that he is “convinced” that Bahrain’s royal leaders are “serious about real reform and moving forward.”
Protester camp outside the main square. (Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
The Obama administration’s press secretary condemned the violence by the Bahraini government Sunday. “We urge the government of Bahrain to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force,” a statement said. “In particular, we urge our GCC partners to show restraint and respect the rights of the people of Bahrain, and to act in a way that supports dialogue instead of undermining it.”
Protester’s camp where people have been sitting for nearly a month. (Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
Initially, protesters took to the streets of Manama to demand reforms, including the introduction of a constitutional monarchy, the release of political prisoners and the formation of a new government. But some are now calling for the removal of the royal family that has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century.
Banner targeting the royal family. (Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
“We just need rights and freedom,” Hani, an engineer who asked that his last name not be used for personal protection, told Truthout.
(Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)
Hani was among the protesters at the city’s Pearl Roundabout. “Here in Bahrain we don’t have freedom at all. It’s only a show, it’s only an image.”
Graffiti calling for the country’s king to step down. (Photo: Yana Trakhtenberg)