In the capital of Manama thousands of protesters shouting anti-government slogans and demanding the release of activist Nabeel Rajab held the first authorized opposition protest since June. The peaceful protest involved no clashes with security forces.
On Friday (August 31) the demonstrators marched along a 3 kilometer length of highway just west of Manama. The protesters carried Bahraini flags and held up images of those jailed earlier including Nabeel Rajab. The protest demanding democratic rights in Bahrain started 18 months ago. Although the uprising was inspired by the Arab Spring movements elsewhere the official Bahraini government explanation of the protests is that they are being directed by Iran. As in Iran the majority of Bahrainis are Shia. The Bahraini government is ruled by the minority Sunnis.
The protest rally marched under the banner "Democratic Freedom". Opposition groups including the largest opposition bloc, Al Wefaq organized the rally. This was the first rally allowed by the government since June when the Interior Ministry banned all Wefaq-led marches on the ground they resulted in violence. However unauthorized protests have continued epecially in Shiite villages.
The activist Rajab was sentenced earlier in August to three years in prison for leading illegal protests. Al Wefaq and other opposition parties demand that the elected parliament have full powers and be able to form governments. The president structure gives considerable power to King Khalifa. Shiites often complain they are marginalized within the economy and government of the Bahrain. While the government has made some reforms the opposition remains unsatisfied.
The Bahraini regime carried out a violent crackdown on opposition protests that killed a number of protesters. For a time the U.S. stopped the shipment of arms to Bahrain. However, shipments have now resumed, even after a report that was quite critical of Bahrain's crackdown. The U.S. fifth fleet is stationed in Bahrain and the U.S. strongly supports King Khalifa.
Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch Middle East division told an Al Jazeera reporter that although he considered Bahrain's human rights record quite bad he believes that concern over the country's image has had some effect. Yes. The regime has actually allowed one demonstration by the opposition and has not killed anyone who participated! Wikipedia estimates that 99 have been killed in protests and over 2700 injured. The appended video is from a demonstration back in February of 2011.
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