Thousands of Shia protesters marched into the capital of Bahrain yesterday 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 the "Day of Rage" protests on Monday, raised the prospect of further clashes between Bahrain's majority Shia Muslims and the Sunni security forces backed by the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty.
Bahrain's main Shia opposition bloc Wefaq, which accuses the rulers of discriminating against and neglecting Shia, 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 the capital city Manama's centre. Dozens of police cars were parked nearby.
Protesters's principal demand was the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed since independence in 1971. An uncle of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, he 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.
Protesters also demanded the release of political prisoners and the creation of a new constitution. "We need a government from the people, not only the Khalifa family," said another protester from the flashpoint Shia 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 have fuelled discontent among Bahrain's Shia.
The clashes broke out when around 2,000 people escorted the body of slain protester Ali Mushaima through Shia villages before his burial.