MANAMA (Reuters) - Thousands of Shi’ite protesters marched into the capital of Bahrain on Tuesday after a man was killed in clashes between police and mourners at a funeral for a demonstrator shot dead at an earlier anti-government rally.
The death, a day after a “Day of Rage” of protests on Monday, raised the prospect of further clashes between Bahrain’s majority Shi’ite Muslims and the Sunni security forces backed by the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty.
Bahrain’s main Shi’ite opposition bloc Wefaq, which accuses rulers of discriminating and neglecting Shi’ites, responded to the violence by boycotting parliament. Enraged mourners chanted anti-government slogans inspired by protests that toppled the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.
“The people demand the fall of the regime!” they said, as thousands poured into Pearl Roundabout in Manama’s city centre. They had marched from the funeral on the outskirts of Manama. Dozens of police cars were parked 500 metres away.
Protesters said their principal demand was the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa who has governed the country since its independence in 1971.
An uncle of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, he is thought to own a great deal of land and is seen as a symbol of the wealth of the ruling family.
“Protesters don’t want to topple the ruling family, but the end of this government and the prime minister,” said Aly, a 49-year-old protester who declined to give his full name.
Protesters say they are also demanding the release of political prisoners, which the government earlier said it would do, and the creation of a new constitution.
“We need a government from the people, not only the Khalifa family,” another protester from the flashpoint Shi’ite village of Karzakan, where protests and clashes with police are common.
Poverty, high unemployment and attempts by the government to grant Sunnis from outside the country citizenship in order to change the demographic balance lie at the heart of deep-seated discontent among Bahrain’s Shi’ites.
Around half of the country’s 1.3 million people are Bahraini, with the rest being foreign workers. The majority of citizens are Shi’ite.