Angry protests continue throughout the Middle East
CAIRO — The Middle East boiled with anger as protesters trying to topple more of the region’s rulers staged fresh mass demonstrations after Friday prayers and buried the victims of crackdowns by embattled regimes.
A week on from the overthrow of Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak, hundreds of thousands flooded Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square to celebrate his departure.
But elsewhere in the Middle East, a sense of anger, grief and hatred pervaded at the end of a week which has seen unprecedented challenges to some of the world’s longest-serving rulers, including Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi.
According to a leading rights watchdog, security forces killed at least 24 people during assaults by the security services on protesters in two Libyan cities on Thursday.
The worst violence hit Al-Baida where hospital staff put a call out for additional supplies to treat 70 injured protesters, said Human Rights Watch.
One injured protester told HRW that security forces used live ammunition to deter protesters, killing 16.
A local medical source told AFP that 14 people were killed in clashes between security forces and protesters in Libya’s second city Benghazi.
After some of the biggest protests of his 41-year rule, Libya’s Revolutionary Committees, a pillar of Kadhafi’s regime, threatened a “violent” response to those pushing for change.
“The response of the people and the Revolutionary Forces to any adventure by these small groups will be sharp and violent,” the Committees said on the website of their newspaper.
Funerals were held across the region after a series of bloody crackdowns.
In Bahrain, thousands chanted slogans calling for the fall of the al-Khalifa dynasty at funerals for four people who were killed in Thursday’s pre-dawn storming of Pearl Square, the epicentre of protests on the Gulf island state.
A banner carried at one of the funerals condemned concerns by Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone that next month’s Bahrain Grand Prix could be affected.
“Mr. Ecclestone, are our lives a price for your Formula One?” it asked.
Police were not visible at the funerals but army tanks and troops kept tight control on the streets of Manama.
There were similar scenes in Yemen after three people were killed in Aden during clashes between police and opponents of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in office for 32 years.
The demonstrators, chanting “Ali, out!”, damaged shops and set fire to tyres.
Like Mubarak in Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen have been key allies in US efforts to combat Al-Qaeda, and Washington has faced widespread accusations that it has too often turned a blind eye to abuses.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday urged Bahrain to show restraint and bolster reform efforts.
Clinton delivered the message to Bahrain’s foreign minister in the latest sign of growing administration anxiety over instability in the home of the US Fifth Fleet and neighbour of another leading US ally, Saudi Arabia.
After Mubarak’s toppling, US President Barack Obama said the people of Egypt would settle for nothing less than “genuine democracy”.
Egypt’s military, placed in charge after Mubarak’s downfall, has pledged to implement widespread reforms before elections in September.
But activists are unhappy that political detainees remain locked up, and hundreds of thousands massed Friday to press the army to meet its pledges.
In a sermon held in Tahrir Square, influential Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi urged Arab leaders to listen to the people.
“The world has changed, the world has progressed, and the Arab world has changed within,” said al-Qaradawi.
“Don’t obstruct the people. Don’t try to lead them on with empty talk. Conduct a real dialogue with them.”
The Arab uprisings have also inspired the opposition movement in Iran which staged an anti-government protest on Monday.
The rally, banned by authorities, turned into deadly clashes between protesters and riot police in which two people were killed.
Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, former pillars of the Islamic regime who now are outspoken critics, have been placed under de facto house arrest and were the target on Friday of death threats at a pro-government rally.
Many of the tens of thousands who took part carried posters of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is greatest).
“Death to Mousavi! Death to Karroubi! Mousavi, Karroubi should be hanged!” worshippers chanted as they emerged from Friday prayers at Tehran University.
Five weeks have now passed since Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali became the first victim of the wave of revolt, fleeing to Saudi Arabia after 23 years of iron-fisted rule.
According to a family friend, Ben Ali has suffered a stroke and is in a coma in a Saudi hospital.