In Bahrain, Protests Continue

Protests in the Gulf island of Bahrain continued through the weekend and are moving into a fourth week. The embattled government there is calling for dialogue with the opposition. And neighboring oil-giant Saudi Arabia has reiterated a ban on protests.

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GUY RAZ, host:

The revolutionary fervor continues in Bahrain, the fourth week of protests in the Gulf Arab state.

NPR's Frank Langfitt is in the capital, Manama. And, Frank, any signs that the protests are winding down?

FRANK LANGFITT: No, they really aren't. I mean, people have been coming out every day on this. They've been going to different places. There was a human chain yesterday near one of the big mosques here in town. They went to the prime minister's today and asked him to step down.

People here are still very angry. You know, police killed seven in a crackdown last month, and most of the protesters don't want to talk to the government.

Now, there are some opposition leaders who are more open to compromise, but on the street, most of the people there are young, and they don't seem to be bending.

RAZ: Frank, what are the folks you're talking to, what are they saying they want changed? I mean, what are their basic demands?

LANGFITT: Well, a lot of different things. And also, they're not unified. Some want the royal family, which has been running this island for more than two centuries, to step down and maybe even leave. That seems highly unlikely because, by and large, they pretty much own the place.

Others want the prime minister to step down, as I mentioned, and the government to fall. You know, also, unlike Egypt, there's a sectarian angle here. The protesters and the country's majority are Shia Muslims. The government is Sunni.

And Shia feel like they're really second-class citizens here. They say they've been discriminated against for jobs. They get bad housing. They're quite bitter about it. It's been going on for quite some time. What they really say they want is equal rights.

RAZ: And, of course, the United States is worried about this, as is Saudi Arabia.

LANGFITT: You know, absolutely. I mean, Bahrain is a very close U.S. ally. It's home to the Navy's Fifth Fleet. Next door is Saudi Arabia. It's the biggest oil exporter in the world.

And the Saudis are really concerned about these protests. You know, we've seen leaders toppled in North Africa, but nothing yet in the Middle East. And on Friday, we saw for the first time protests in Riyadh. And there's a call for a day of rage on Friday.

Now, most observers don't expect to see that kind of instability in Saudi Arabia that we've seen elsewhere, you know, in North Africa. But if it comes, it could have really global implications. Oil prices could get very, very high, and of course, some of the economies are not fully recovered from the financial crisis.

So unlike the situation in North Africa, you know, when Hosni Mubarak fell in Egypt, they didn't feel it in Ohio, but if something really happens in Saudi Arabia, they probably would.

RAZ: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Bahrain's capital, Manama.

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