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Mourner killed in clashes at Bahrain protester funeral

Clashes broke out between police, protesters; Opposition Wefaq bloc suspends participation in parliament; Bahrain says to look into use of force

February 15, 2011 3:47 by

One person was killed when police in Bahrain clashed with mourners at the funeral of a Shi’ite protester shot dead during an anti-government “Day of Rage”, witnesses and police said on Tuesday.

The killing raised fears of further clashes between Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite Muslims and the Sunni security forces backed by the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty, accused of discriminating and neglecting its Shi’ite population.

The violence prompted Bahrain’s main Shi’ite opposition bloc Wefaq to suspend its participation in parliament and further enraged mourners who chanted anti-government slogans inspired by protests that toppled the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.

“We demand the downfall of the regime,” they chanted.

Witnesses said the clashes broke out when around 2,000 people set out from hospital to slowly escort the body of slain protester Ali Mushaima through narrow alleys of Shi’ite villages on the outskirts of Bahrain’s capital toward his home, where his body was to be washed before burial.

Diplomats say Bahrain’s protests, organised on the internet, may gauge whether a larger Shi’ite base can be drawn to the streets to raise pressure on the state for reforms that would give Shi’ites a greater voice and better economic prospects.

Analysts say large-scale unrest in Bahrain, also home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a regional offshore banking centre, could also embolden fellow marginalised Shi’ites in nearby Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Stability concerns pushed up the cost of insuring Bahrain’s debt to the highest level since August 2009, with 5-year credit default swaps rising 12 basis points, according to Markit.

Ibrahim Mattar, a Wefaq parliamentarian whose bloc won 18 of 40 seats in parliament’s lower house in a tightly controlled October election, said suspending participation in parliament was a first step.

“We want to see dialogue,” he said. “In the coming days, we are either going to resign from the council or continue.”

The powers of parliament’s lower house are limited as its bills need to pass an upper house, appointed by the king. Among the demands of activists who organised the protests are that the parliament and prime minister be elected directly by the people.

Poverty, high unemployment and attempts by the government to grant Sunnis from outside the country jobs, housing and citizenship in order to change the demographic balance lie at the heart of deep-seated discontent among Bahrain’s Shi’ites.

The divisive issues, denied by Manama — a close ally of Washington and Riyadh — have long dominated parliamentary debates in Bahrain, a small non-OPEC oil-producer.

Some protesters said Wefaq, which had initially stopped short of endorsing the Feb. 14 protests, had not gone far enough.

“They should move out of parliament completely if they want to represent the people. The people are on the ground here today. They are killed by unjustifiable police violence,” Bahraini blogger Mahmood Youssif said.

Mushaima, the 22-year-old man being buried on Tuesday, was killed on Monday in clashes in Daih village as security forces clamped down on Shi’ite areas in the Gulf Arab kingdom.

Mattar told Reuters that police had tried to disperse the funeral procession using tear gas, but that mourners then regrouped and continued their procession. He said the man killed on Tuesday had been shot.

Bahrain police said the mourners had clashed with four police patrol vehicles at the scene when one of them broke down and the other three were trying to remove it. One person, Fadhel Salman Matrook, was wounded and later died in hospital.

The Ministry of Interior said it had offered condolences to the family of the protester killed on Monday and would take legal action if the use of force was found to be unjustified.

“I am confident truth will prevail,” Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said on Twitter, adding that it would be wrong to jump to conclusions and blame police. “No one accepts what happened. It’s a sad feeling and all Bahrainis are hurt.

Bahrain, in a move appeared aimed at preventing Shi’ite discontent from boiling over, had offered cash payouts in the run-up to the Feb. 14 protests, which took place mainly in Shi’ite villages outside of Manama.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, trying to take the steam out of protests, has said he would give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each local family, and the government has indicated that it may free minors arrested under a security crackdown last year.

Bahrain, which unlike Gulf Arab peers has little spare cash to use for social problems, has also said it would spend an extra $417 million on social items, including food subsidies, reversing attempts to prepare the public for cuts.

By Frederik Richter

(Additional reporting by Martina Fuchs and Cynthia Johnston in Dubai; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

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