Bahrain king orders release of political prisoners

Bahrain's king ordered the release of some political prisoners today, conceding to another opposition demand as the embattled monarchy tries to engage protesters in talks aimed at ending an uprising that has entered its second week.

The king's decree — which covers several Shiite activists accused of plotting against the state — adds to the brinksmanship on both sides that has included a massive pro-government rally yesterday, an opposition march in response and the planned return of a prominent opposition figure from exile.



It's unclear how many prisoners will be freed, said government spokeswoman Maysoon Sabkar.



But they include some of the 25 Shiite activists on trial for allegedly plotting against the Sunni rulers of the strategic island kingdom, a leading member of Bahrain's Shiite opposition, Abdul Jalili Khalil, told The Associated Press.



He called the prisoner release "a good step" and a "positive gesture."



Two of those in the case are being tried in absentia, including opposition leader Hassan Meshaima, who has been in self-exile in London since last year. He was expected to return to Bahrain later today.



Mesheima's presence could bolster opposition forces seeking a harder line against the monarchy, including some who have called for the complete ouster of the king and the royal dynasty that has ruled for more than 200 years.



Meshaima's group, known as Haq, is considered more radical than the main Shiite political bloc that has so far taken a central role in the revolt, which began last week with marches but quickly met with violent resistance from security forces.



The primary Shiite group includes 18 members of the 40-member parliament, who resigned on Thursday to protest the killing of demonstrators by security forces.



More than 100,000 opposition supporters marched today through the capital of Manama, carrying Bahrain's red-and-white flag and circling the Bahrain Mall and Manama's financial district — symbols of the country's prosperity in recent decades. Security forces did not move to confront the procession, but helicopters circled overhead.



"Egypt, Tunisia, are we any different?" they chanted.



The government said the overall death toll was seven from street clashes, which included the army opening fire on protesters. But it's unclear whether it included a man who died of injuries yesterday. Reports from opposition groups and hospital officials in the past week set the death toll at eight and hundreds wounded — far more than the 25 listed by authorities.



The attacks on protesters have brought stinging denunciations from Bahrain's Western allies, including the United States. The US maintains very close ties with Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.



Bahrain authorities withdrew the military on Saturday and allowed protesters to reclaim the landmark Pearl Square, which has been the centre of the Shiite-led uprising.



Bahrain's Shiite majority has complained of discrimination and political persecution in the kingdom. They have staged protests in the past, but the current unrest — inspired by the toppling of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt — is the most serious against the Sunni rulers.



In a brief statement on Bahrain's official news agency, the king ordered the release of "a number of prisoners" and a halt to "several trials" of Shiite activists.



Yesterday, Bahrain's crown prince called off Formula One's season-opening race scheduled for March 13, handing another victory to protesters.



Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa owns the rights to grand prix and serves as commander of the armed forces. Protesters said it would have been disrespectful the hold the race.



The crown prince told F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone by telephone that the race would not go ahead.



"We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain's Formula One race to a later date," the crown prince said in a statement.



Sabkar told reporters the "immediate priority is to keep the peace and maintain calm." She said the government, led by the same prime minister — the king's uncle — for 40 years, was "deeply saddened by the tragic events of the past few days and its condolences go out to those families who have lost loved ones."



Opposition leaders have called for the government to resign after last week's bloodshed to pave the way for a dialogue with the crown prince.



"The government has taken a decision to shoot at its people," said Khalil, a Shiite opposition leader. "Our objective remains for this government to resign after failing to protect its people."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Two christmas trees ,Moonbeam (2L), Moonchester (2R) and Santa Claus outside the Etihad Stadium
footballAll the action from today's games
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas