Bahrain funerals begin amid pro-monarchy rallies (VIDEO)


A young Bahraini pro-government supporter waves his national flag during a gathering near the Al-Fateh mosque following Friday's noon prayers in the capital Manama on February 18, 2011 as angry Shiites burried the dead of a violent police raid on anti-regime protesters.


Adan Jan

Thousands of Shiite mourners have gathered in villages outside Bahrain's capital, Manama, to bury the victims of Thursday's crackdown on anti-government protests at a makeshift camp in Pearl Square.

More than 230 were reportedly wounded in the clashes overnight Thursday, and dozens detained.

Meanwhile, footage from local TV showed hundreds of pro-government supporters — men, women and children, wearing mostly traditional dress and waving flags and pictures of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa — streaming through the streets of Bahrain's capital on Friday.

During funerals for the victims, the mourners chanted slogans calling for the overthrow of the government. There are fears the funerals could be a flashpoint for further violence in Bahrain and elsewhere amid a wave of anti-government rallies across the Middle East.

Bahrain's military took control of the capital Thursday, hours after riot police firing tear gas, birdshot and rubber bullets raided an anti-government protest camp. Up to five people were reportedly killed and more than 230 others were wounded. The military has since banned public gatherings.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Khalifa, defended the crackdown, saying it was necessary because the mostly Shi'ite demonstrators were pushing the country to the "brink of a sectarian abyss."

Bahrain is a crucial U.S. ally and the island nation is host to the U.S. Navy's Fifth fleet and about 6,000 U.S. troops. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called Bahrain a "model partner" last December, but reacting to the protests and the government's hard-handed response, Washington is slowly taking a harder line.

"We call on restraint from the government to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilized excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and we urge a return to a process that will result in real meaningful changes for the people there," Clinton said

Protesters in Bahrain are demanding not just jobs but also the release of political prisoners and broad constitutional reforms.

They are calling for the end to the monarchy that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.

here have been international calls for the king to listen to the concerns of the mainly Shiite demonstrators, who say they are discriminated against by the Sunni elite, whose numbers have sharply increased in recent years through selective immigration from neighboring Sunni Arab states.

About half of the island kingdom's 1.3 million people are Bahraini, while the rest are foreign workers. Shiites make up 70 percent of the population.

In 2001, voters overwhelmingly approved a national charter to lead the way toward democratic changes. But a year later, the king imposed a constitution by decree that Shiite leaders say has diluted the rights in the charter and blocked them from achieving a majority in the parliament.