Bahraini protesters want freedom not dialogue


JNN 31 July 2011 Manama : Tens of thousands have marched outside Bahrain’s capital Manama, protesting against the results of a national dialogue they say has failed to bring real democratic reform in the Persian Gulf island kingdom. 

Shouting “We want freedom” and waving Bahraini flags and banners that read “No to dialogue”, protesters marched along Budaiya highway on Friday as helicopters from the security forces buzzed overhead, Reuters reported.

Some began to shout “Down, down, Hamad” in the Friday march, which organizers entitled “The people are the source of authority”.

Bahraini forces surround U.S. embassy

On Friday, Saudi-backed Bahraini forces massed around the U.S. embassy in the capital to prevent the protest sit-in outside the U.S. diplomatic compound.

Bahrain’s February 14 Movement called for a mass sit-in in front of the U.S. Embassy to condemn Washington’s interference in the country’s internal affairs, Press TV reported.

Witnesses say, only a number of women have been sighted heading towards the site of the embassy and there were no reports of gathering there.

Opposition groups and anti-government activists accuse Washington of supporting the ruling Al Khalifa regime and turning a blind eye to atrocities committed by Bahraini authorities against peaceful protesters.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Thursday approved parliamentary reforms submitted by a state-appointed body dialogue commission.

The process “reflects the determination

[of the participants] to rise above the latest incidents,” King Hamad said in a televised speech on Thursday.

“We have ordered the executive and legislative authorities to take the necessary measures to approve the agreements,” he said after receiving a report by the state-appointed National Dialogue, set up to address grievances after the government crackdown.

The changes grant more powers of scrutiny to the elected lower house of parliament but preserve the dominance of the upper house appointed by the royal elite.

Bahrain’s Al Khalifa rulers launched the formal dialogue in July, aiming to quell international criticism of its crushing of mass pro-democracy protests in February and March.

Widespread disapproval

Opposition groups and many in the Shia population argued their voice in the dialogue was overshadowed by a majority of pro-government participants. The government said it had selected representation that accurately reflected society.

Al-Wefaq, the largest Shia opposition group, walked out of the dialogue several weeks ago and now members said they felt their actions were justified after the body’s results were announced.

“The government thought the results were great. We thought they were nothing,” Sayed al-Mousawi, a Al-Wefaq leader, said. “There’s no fully elected government, no reforms to the voting system. It’s a one-sided deal.”

Shia Muslims in Bahrain have long complained of discrimination in jobs and services and accuse the government of gerrymandering electoral districts, charges the government denies.

Khalil al-Marzouq, a Al-Wefaq spokesman, said the final proposals vindicated his group’s decision to boycott.

“The reason we pulled out is because of this. The upper house should only be there for consultation,” he said.

The lower house of parliament currently holds limited authority since all the country’s decisions, including the appointment of government ministers, ultimately rest with the king.

Other proposed reforms are aimed at addressing “the need for fairer electoral constituencies”, though the recommendations stopped short of specifically calling for the realigning of electoral districts that members of the opposition say are unfairly drawn.

According to the new proposal, the prime minister, appointed by the king, would have to secure the approval of parliament for members of his government. “If MPs disapprove they can vote to reject the entire government. Parliament will also have the power to reject the government’s four-year work plan,” it said.

“These reforms guarantee that the government’s composition and work plan will reflect the will of the people.”

It also said cabinet ministers would have to attend some parliament sessions and face questioning in the open chamber rather than within the framework of committees.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, the prime minister of 40 years, is regarded as a leading figure within the ruling family, who opposes concessions to the opposition.

Bahrain’s rulers called in troops from Saudi Arabia and some other Persian Gulf states in March to help quell protests.

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