Thousands of Bahraini Shi’ites have defied martial law to renew their pro-democracy protests as they gathered after prayers yesterday to bury a victim of the security forces’ bloody crackdown.
More than 5000 chanted slogans for a “free Bahrain” and denounced a Saudi-led military force sent to help put down the unrest, during a funeral in the town of Sitra, which was the scene of violent clashes on Tuesday.
“Death to Al-Saud” and “occupier out” they shouted, as a helicopter circled overhead.
Mourners said Ahmed Farhan, 28, died instantly when he was shot in the head from a helicopter on Tuesday, shortly after the US-backed government declared martial law in a bid to put down a month of Shi’ite-led unrest.
Pictures shown to AFP by doctors who attended to Farhan showed his head had been blown apart.
One of Farhan’s cousins told AFP his funeral would go ahead despite a ban on all public gatherings and the authorities’ initial reluctance to release his body from Manama’s main hospital, which has been taken over by police.
“We’re not scared – every drop of blood that is shed emboldens us. If we were scared we wouldn’t have left our houses,” she said.
In the nearby Shi’ite town of Diraz, just outside of Manama, thousands poured out of mosques after prayers and promised to “sacrifice blood for Bahrain.”
They also called for restraint and non-violence in the face of alleged crimes by the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s police and military.
Sheikh Issa Qassem, Bahrain’s senior Shi’ite cleric, said in a sermon that people demanding rights and reform “do not believe in violence that authorities are trying to push them to.”
“The peaceful approach has been our choice since day one,” he said.
Buses packed with security personnel arrived at the scene but there were no reports of violence.
The protests are the first since security forces firing tear gas and shotguns assaulted a month-old pro-democracy sit-in at Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday, killing three.
The government destroyed the pearl-topped monument at the centre of the emblematic square and the official BNA news yesterday carried a picture of the crumbled remains of the monument.
A statement said destruction of the monument was part of a “facelift” of the area designed to improve traffic flow.
Bahraini police have been reinforced with more than 1000 armoured troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, but the foreign forces have kept a low profile.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon called King Hamad late Thursday to warn the crackdown might be breaking international law, after the world body’s human rights chief cited “credible” reports of “shocking and illegal” abuses.
The US and Britain have also expressed concern and called for a return to dialogue, but the opposition says it will not negotiate “with a gun to our head”.
The abuses allegedly include killings, withholding treatment from the wounded and attacks on doctors as they try to help injured protesters. The government denies the claims.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay said on Thursday any takeover by the security forces of hospitals was a “blatant violation of international law”.
Dissidents have been rounded up at gunpoint in midnight raids and armed police have been posted outside Manama’s Salmaniya hospital. State television has reported that police raided the hospital to “cleanse” it of “saboteurs”.
A doctor, Ali al-Ekri, who had been accused on state TV of spreading “fabrications” about conditions at the hospital, was arrested there on Thursday, opposition leaders said.
The violence in the strategic kingdom has alarmed Washington and sparked furious condemnation from Shi’ite power Iran, Shi’ite leaders in Iraq and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.
Bahrain is a key US ally, the home of the US Fifth Fleet which contributes to the war in Afghanistan, and a major regional banking centre.
Shi’ites protested in the eastern Saudi city of Qateef on Thursday night, while more than 5000 Iraqis rallied yesterday in northern Diyala province to denounce the crackdown in Bahrain.
Yesterday, 10 Saudi Shi’ites were hurt in clashes riot police as they rallied in support of the Shi’ites in Bahrain, a witness there told AFP.
The unrest is taking a severe toll on Bahrain’s economy, Standard & Poor’s said as it cut the country’s long- and short-term local and foreign currency sovereign credit ratings. Agencies