Font Size

- Aa +

Fri 18 Mar 2011 08:31 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester

Opposition leaders arrested as military crackdown, curfews continue in Gulf kingdom

Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester
Bahrain has been struggling to quell more than a month of protests led by Shiites calling for democracy and increased civil rights
Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester
Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester
Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester
Bahraini anti-government look at spent gas canisters, stun grenades, rubber bullets all piled up in Pearl Square, the epicentre of the anti government movement, in Manama on March 14, 2011 (Getty Images)
Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester
Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester
Thousands attend funeral of Bahraini protester

Shouting "down with King

Hamad", thousands of Bahrainis buried an activist killed in a

crackdown on mainly Shi'ite protesters that has angered Iran and

raised tension in the world's largest oil-exporting region.

Mourners carrying pictures of activist Ahmed Farhan, killed

on Wednesday, followed a car carrying his flag-covered coffin.

No security forces were present, but a helicopter buzzed

overhead and it was unclear if police would disperse the

mourners in line with a blanket ban on public gatherings.

"This is a big loss... They can say what they want about us

but we are non-violent. We will never use violence," said Yousif

Hasan Ali, who was in jail with Farhan, 30, for over two years.

"They may silence this generation but another will rise up

to demand revenge for the blood that was shed now."

Bahrain has arrested seven opposition leaders and driven

pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets after weeks of

protests that prompted the king to declare martial law and led

to the arrival of troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Three protesters died in the security sweep. Three policemen

were also killed, hit by cars driven by demonstrators.

Sheikh Issa Qassim, Bahrain's most influential Shi'ite

cleric, said in his Friday sermon that Gulf troops would have

been better off helping Palestinians in Gaza than entering

Bahrain and thanked those who died or resigned in the uprising.

"The violence of the authorities has created a deep, wide

and dangerous wound between the government and people," he said.

"The government wants to break our will so we give up our

calls for substantial and meaningful reforms, but they will

never break our will. They can use tanks and planes to smash our

bodies but will never break our souls and our will for reforms."

No troops or police could be seen as thousands of

worshippers stood outside Draz mosque after Qassim's sermon,

calling for Gulf troops to leave and vowing to fight what they

called this "corrupt and oppressive regime."

"Peninsula Shield Out," they called, and "Bahrain is free."

The protest lasted less than half an hour and worshippers

dispersed to attend the funeral.

Showing its desire to avoid new violence, the largest

Shi'ite party Wefaq told its followers by text message not to

provoke police and not to use slogans that offend the royals.

Shaking their fists, mourners shouted "death to al-Khalifa"

and "death to Al Saud", referring to the Sunni ruling families

of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

"I'm not really afraid, the worst is that I get killed and

it would be for Bahrain, right? Better to die trying to get our

freedom," said Haitham, 45, a Shi'ite from Sitra.

The crackdown in Bahrain has provoked sympathy protests by

Shi'ites across the region, including in top oil exporter Saudi

Arabia which has sent over 1,000 troops to its tiny neighbour.

Shi'ite Muslim power Iran, which supports Shi'ite groups in

Iraq and Lebanon, complained to the United Nations and asked

other neighbours to join it in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw.

"How could one accept a government to invite foreign

military forces to suppress its own citizens?" Iranian Foreign

Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a letter to U.N. Secretary

General Ban Ki-moon, also addressed to the Arab League.

In a sign of rising tension, Bahrain replied: "Iran's move

does not serve security and stability in the Gulf region."

More than 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites. Most are

campaigning for a constitutional monarchy, but calls by

hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed

Sunnis, who fear the unrest serves Iran, separated from Saudi

Arabia and Bahrain by only a short stretch of Gulf waters.

Analysts say the intervention of Saudi Arabia, which

worries that protests by Bahraini Shi'ites will incite its own

Shi'ite minority, could worsen already poor ties with Iran.

One woman praying at Draz said she was Sunni: "The

government is making this a sectarian issue. I see the way my

friends are treated and I came here to show solidarity."

Oil jumped more than $1 to $116 on fears of rising

geopolitical tensions in the Middle East and North Africa.

Capital flight is starting to put pressure on Bahrain's

currency and threaten its position as a Gulf financial centre.

Most Western nations have urged their citizens to leave.

The ferocity of the crackdown, in which troops and police

fanned out across Bahrain, imposed a curfew and banned all

public gatherings and marches, has stunned Bahrain's Shi'ites.

Opposition groups have said they will press on with peaceful

resistance, standing outside their homes at certain hours,

flying the flag from their rooftops and calling "Allahu Akbar",

or "God is Great", from rooftops at night. It was not clear what

else they could do without provoking a confrontation.