Bahrain MPs warn against 'illegal' rallies

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 10:37 AM

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Bahrain's depleted parliament warned Thursday against continued protests near government ministries, calling Shiite rallies for a leadership overhaul in the Persian Gulf kingdom illegal.

The strategically important nation, the host of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, has been gripped by three weeks of unprecedented political unrest inspired by the uprisings that toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bahrain's majority Shiites are trying to loosen the Sunni monarchy's grip on power, staging daily demonstrations and marching on state and financial institutions they say symbolize political oppression and economic inequality.

Several remaining members of Bahrain's 40-seat parliament on Thursday noted an increasing number of "unauthorized gatherings" in the capital of Manama. They demanded protesters comply with laws that require permission from the state's security agency to hold public rallies.

The parliament has been in limbo since 18 opposition legislators resigned last month to protest the government's deadly crackdown on the demonstrations centered around a tent complex in Pearl Square in Manama, the capital. The parliament is Bahrain's only elected body, and it holds limited authority since all the country's decisions - including the appointment of government ministers - rest with the king.

A report on the state-run Bahrain News Agency said Thursday that rallies "near ministries, shopping malls or at any location that can cause a traffic jam or pose a security threat" are illegal.

The agency also noted that demonstrations "before sunrise or after sunset" are banned.

The Shiite protesters say they will not leave Pearl Square until they get rights equal to those of Bahrain's Sunnis and a constitutional monarchy with an elected government.

Others say they will remain at the Pearl Square until the Al Khalifa family, which has ruled for 200 years, leaves altogether.

Bahrain's security forces stormed the protests camp just days after tents were set up on February 14. Four people were killed during the raid and three others died in marches aimed at reclaiming the square.

Bahrain holds particular importance to Washington as the host of the Navy's 5th Fleet, the main American military counterweight to Iran's efforts to expand its armed forces and reach into the Gulf.

© 2011 The Associated Press