Protesters Call For Reform In Bahrain

In the aftermath of the uprising in Egypt, the people of Bahrain are in the streets, taking over the city square. One person was killed in a clash with police Tuesday during a funeral, setting the stage for another confrontation tomorrow.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Dramatic events today as the spillover continues from the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. In Iran, hardliners called for the death of opposition leaders. More on that in a few minutes.

BLOCK: First, to Bahrain and a surprising turn of events there. During the funeral procession for the first demonstrator to die, a second demonstrator was killed. Bahrain's king then apologized and withdrew riot police.

As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Bahrain, protesters have now been allowed to occupy a central square. They're calling it their Tahrir Square.

PETER KENYON: Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima's funeral began the same way his life had ended yesterday: with riot police clashing with Bahrainis demanding reform.

When a second young man died in this morning's brief clash, word spread like lighting through the Shiite villages on the outskirts of the capital, Manama, and an already big funeral swelled to startling dimensions.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: The procession was marked with a kind of anti-government chanting heard at demonstrations around the region, but the anger was tempered by the somber resonant rhythms of the Shiite burial ritual, which at times seemed to carry echoes of an old African-American spiritual or work song.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: As Mushaima's body was carried into the cemetery, his father sat nearby, sobbing as he tried to describe what his son's death might mean. A family friend translated.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) This is for every Bahraini. This is for the country. This is for everybody who is coming for the celebration. Everybody here is celebrating as a wedding, not as a death.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: The mourners left the cemetery and headed for the central square that they had been blocked from entering the day before. They braced for more teargas and rubber bullets, but the riot police have vanished.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa addressed the nation, offering condolences to the families of the slain demonstrators and saying an investigation into the deaths would follow.

Suddenly freed from the fear of the security forces, the mourners tumbled into the square as if a long locked door had suddenly been left open. It was a small victory to be sure, but there was no mistaking the euphoria of young Bahrainis who thought this large grassy traffic circle might turn into their Tahrir Square.

It was hard to tell who was more startled, the young men and women waving Bahraini flags or the drivers who slowed to a crawl, honking in solidarity and hanging out of windows to capture the scene on cell phone cameras.

(Soundbite of honking cars)

KENYON: Minutes later, a roar went up as the first tent was pitched. And another roar greeted the arrival of Ebrahim Sharif, head of the National Democratic Action Society and a veteran pro-reform activist.

Sharif said despite some heated calls for regime change, what the demonstrators really want is for the royal family to live up to its promise of reform, not continue to crush dissent and, as he put it, bribe the citizens with payouts, such as the recent promise of a thousand dinars, more than $2,500 per family.

Mr. EBRAHIM SHARIF (Secretary General, National Democratic Action Society): We call the 1,000 dinar the Egyptian bonus. We want our own bonus. We want democracy, and we will take it in the streets of Bahrain.

KENYON: Actually, what Sharif wants is a constitutional monarchy, along the lines of Britain's. But he admits that's a longer-term project and will only happen if Bahrain's Sunni population joins the Shiites in the streets.

Mr. SHARIF: Just like in Egypt, at the beginning, not everybody joined the movement. So as they get convinced that this is a very peaceful movement, we're going to see a lot of Sunnis participating.

Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

KENYON: The crowd chanted salmiya, salmiya - peaceful, peaceful. But the riot police have only pulled back, not withdrawn entirely, and another funeral for the second slain protester comes tomorrow morning.

All sides are wondering how this latest unscripted political street theater will unfold.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Bahrain.

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