Last updated: 9 March, 2012

Tens of thousands rally in Bahrain urging reform

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis flooded the streets of the capital Manama on Friday demanding political reforms, a year after authorities crushed an uprising, an activist said.

Policemen fired tear gas at a group of protesters but the rallies were largely peaceful and no one was arrested, said Nabil Rajab, an activist who heads the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights.

“It is one of the largest protests in recent years,” Rajab told AFP.

Rajab said demonstrators took to the streets in response to calls by several groups, including Bahrain’s powerful Al-Wefaq main Shiite opposition formation, as well as Shiite clerics.

“A small group of protesters tried to converge on the former Pearl Square but they were dispersed by policemen who fired tear gas canisters,” said Rajab in reference to the rallying point of last year’s protests.

Protesters called for political reforms in Bahrain, which is ruled by the minority Sunni Al-Khalifa family, and for an elected government, Rajab said.

The Shiite-led opposition demands constitutional changes that would reduce the power of the dynasty.

Tensions have remained high in Bahrain since a deadly crackdown last year after a month of Manama street protests.

According to an independent probe 35 people were killed in last year’s unrest, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death while in custody.