JNN 03 July 2011 MANAMA — Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas at pro-democracy protesters denouncing so-called reconciliation talks between the kingdom’s rulers and the opposition on Saturday just hours after the dialogue began.
The renewed unrest — described by witnesses — underlines the deep tensions on the island nation after more than four months of brutal crackdowns by the Western-allied monarchy, AP reported.
The protesters gathered near a landmark square in Manama, which was the epicenter of the popular uprising for greater rights that began in February. The witnesses said several hundred marchers chanted “No dialogue” just hours after a ceremony to open the talks in the tiny nation.
Bahraini security forces cracked down on the demonstration, despite the opposition’s threat to quit talks with the regime if the people’s demands were not met.
According to Press TV, the incident took place when a funeral for a victim of the regime’s crackdown turned into an anti-regime demonstration as the participants marched toward the capital’s Martyr Square, formerly known as Pearl Square.
The angry protesters were shouting slogans and calling for King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to step down.
Bahraini security forces attacked the demonstrators as helicopters buzzed overhead.
New footage from Manama also showed an old woman hospitalized after inhaling tear gas fired by regime forces on homes in a district of Sitra.
Bahrain’s rulers and opposition leaders have started negotiations despite huge demonstrations held on Friday throughout the country demanding that the opposition reject the call for talks with the government.
The main opposition party Al-Wefaq made a last-minute decision to join the National Dialogue but has threatened to withdraw from the talks if the government ignores the people’s demands.
Parliament Speaker Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Dhahrani opened the forum Saturday by hailing the gathering as “a historic opportunity for all of us to overcome this critical stage of the nation’s history through dialogue.”
He said the goal is to bring “together different points of view to develop common visions” and added that the Al Khalifas are at the talks “without preconditions.”
After a 45-minute ceremonial session, the approximately 300 participants adjourned. The talks are to last until the end of July, with delegates meeting three times a week.
Al Wefaq’s three delegates who attended Saturday’s session, were not optimistic the dialogue will lead to meaningful reforms.
“It started as a monologue,” said one of the three, Bushra al-Hindi. “The agenda has been previously set by the government in order to exclude talks about critical issues, such as moving along with a process that will reshape the country into a constitutional monarchy.”
According to AP, Al Wefaq’s leader, Sheik Ali Salman, had told supporters on Friday that his group will stick to its calls for the Al Khalifa family to loosen the grip on power and allow people to elect a government.
In March, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates deployed military forces to Bahrain to help the regime crush nationwide protests that broke out in mid-February.
Dozens of people have been killed so far and hundreds more arrested in the Saudi-backed crackdown on the protests.
The violent repression continues, despite the lifting of a three-month emergency law imposed in March, and Manama is still putting civilians on trial in its so-called special courts.
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