The centre of the Bahraini capital Manama has been filled with thousands of demonstrators calling for the government’s downfall – and to remember the victims of the past week’s violence.
Many majority Shi’ite Muslims claim they are the victims of long-term discrimination by the ruling Sunni elite.
Joining the protest was a small group of army and police officers, conscious that the military firing on protesters had contributed to the death toll of seven.
“We decided that our job is to protect people and not to beat them up,” said policeman Abu Noah. “The weapons that have been used against the people are weapons of shame, these weapons should be used to protect the people, and not be used against them. That’s why we’ve decided to be with the people.”
A key test will be the impact of the return from exile of a leading opposition figure, Hassan Mushaimaa of the Haq movement, one of a group of 25 on trial over an alleged coup plot.
“These peaceful Muslim people are coming today to raise the flag of the homeland,” said Sheikh Hussein Al-Deehi, deputy head of another opposition group, the Shi’ite Al-Wefaq Society. “We’ve been asking for freedom for decades and we’ve been denied it. We’ve lost blood but we’ll keep struggling, God willing.”
The royal family has offered concessions – announcing the release of some convicted prisoners for example – but it is not clear whether such moves will be enough to get opposition groups to agree to talks.
They have repeated demands for a constitutional monarchy to replace Bahrain’s ruling dynasty.
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