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