Security forces in Bahrain fired tear gas and bird shot Tuesday on mourners gathered for a funeral procession for a man killed in the first Egypt-inspired protests to reach the Gulf, killing at least one other person and sharply raising the chances for further unrest.
Officials at Bahrain's Salmaniya Medical Complex — the meeting point for thousands of mourners — said a 31-year-old man died from injuries from bird shot fired during the melee in the hospital's parking lot. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to journalists.
The latest death raises the possibility of more rallies and challenges to the ruling Sunni monarchy in Bahrain — a strategic Western ally and home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.
After the clash, riot police eventually withdrew and allowed the funeral cortege for 21-year-old Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima to proceed from the hospital, the main state-run medical facility in Bahrain's capital Manama.
Protestors outside the hospital (Photo: Reuters)
Mushaima was killed Monday during clashes with security forces trying to halt marches to demand greater freedoms and political rights. At least 25 people were injured in the barrage of rubber bullets, bird shot and tear gas, family members said.
A statement from Bahrain's interior minister, Lt. Gen. Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, expressed "sincere condolences and deep sympathy" to Mushaima's family. He stressed that the death will be investigated and charges would be filed if authorities determined excessive force was used against the protesters.
But that's unlikely to appease the protesters, whose "day of rage" coincided with major anti-government demonstrations in Iran and Yemen.
In the past week, Bahrain's rulers have attempted to undermine calls for reform by promising nearly $2,700 for each family and pledging to loosen state controls on the media.
A main Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq, denounced the "bullying tactics and barbaric policies pursued by the security forces" against peaceful marchers staging the first major rallies in the Gulf since uprisings toppled long-ruling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.
Seeking change. Protestors in Bahrain (Photo: AFP)
Protestors want political freedom
Bahrain's protesters, however, claim they do not seek to overthrow the ruling monarchy but want greater political freedoms and sweeping changes in how the country is run. The demands include transferring more decision-making powers to the parliament and breaking the monarchy's grip on senior government posts.
Bahrain's majority Shiites — about 70% of the population — have long complained of systemic discrimination by the Sunni rulers.
Bahrain's Sunni leaders point to parliamentary elections as a symbol of political openness in the nation of about 525,000 citizens. The 40-seat chamber — one of the few popularly elected bodies in the Gulf — has 18 opposition lawmakers.
But many Sunnis in Bahrain also are highly suspicious of Shiite activists, claiming they seek to undermine the state and have cultural bonds with Shiite heavyweight Iran. An ongoing trial in Bahrain accuses 25 Shiites of plotting against the country's leadership.
In Kuwait, opposition groups had called for an anti-government protest last week, but shifted the date to March 8 after the resignation of the country's scandal-tainted interior minister.
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