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Sat 26 Feb 2011 10:11 AM

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Three Bahraini ministers sacked in wake of mass protests

Tens of thousands gather in Manama in one of the biggest protests since unrest erupted in Gulf state

Three Bahraini ministers sacked in wake of mass protests
Shiite clerics take part in an anti-government rally on February 25 in remembrance of seven people killed in police crackdowns (Getty Images)

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has sacked three ministers who “caused crisis” after the unrest in the country, Al Jazeera television said on Friday, quoting an unnamed official source.

The Arab satellite channel did not provide further details and there was no immediate confirmation, but Al Arabiya television said the ministers of health and housing were among the three. The news network did not name the third minister.

Tens of thousands of mainly Shi'ite Bahrainis gathered in Manama on Friday, declared as a day of mourning by the government, in one of the biggest anti-government protests since unrest erupted 10 days ago.

Large crowds marched to Pearl Square, the focal point of the protests by an opposition youth movement seeking to bring down the Sunni-led government and calling for a new constitution, inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Ibrahim Mattar, a member of parliament for the main Shi’ite opposition group Wefaq, said the ministers identified in the reports had only been on the sidelines of the crisis.

“All these changes are minor … we call for the resignation of the prime minister, the defence minister, all those faces responsible for the bloodshed,” he said.

Bahrain saw the worst unrest since the 1990s last week when seven people were killed in protests by its majority Shi’ites who have long complained of discrimination in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which is a close US and Saudi ally.

The al Khalifa dynasty has ruled Bahrain for 200 years, and the family dominates a cabinet led by the king's uncle, who has been prime minister since independence in 1971.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al Khalifa, told Reuters on Thursday that all issues can be brought to the table in a national dialogue aimed at ending the standoff between the government and protesters demanding an elected government.

“Everything can be brought to the table,” the minister said, in answer to questions over whether Bahrain would consider changes in its cabinet in response to protester demands.

Friday’s gathering was called by a council of leading religious figures, including Sheikh Issa Qassem, the most revered Shi’ite cleric in Bahrain.

The government had declared a national day of mourning for the protesters killed in clashes which erupted on Feb 14 and lasted until the government pulled all troops off the streets less than a week later.

“This is a positive step,” said Jasim Hussain, a Wefaq member of parliament. “But more could be done, like giving the families (of those killed) time on state television to express their feeling. State media has hardly covered this,” he said.

Crowds moved slowly towards Pearl Square, waving Bahraini flags and chanting religious slogans and calling for the government to step down.

The government denies there is any discrimination against Shi’ites in Bahrain, who make up about 70 percent of the population but are a minority in Bahrain's 40-seat parliament because of an electoral process they say shuts them out.

Tens of thousands of pro-government protesters have also gathered several times in recent days, saying reforms launched by Bahrain’s king a decade ago have resulted in freedoms and democracy unique in the Gulf Arab region.

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