Inspired by revolts that have toppled Arab rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, protesters in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen have taken to the streets to demand the resignations of their own heads of state.
Protesters in Bahrain poured into the Gulf kingdom's capital on Wednesday to mourn a demonstrator killed in clashes with security forces. Over a thousand joined a funeral procession for the man, who was shot dead Tuesday when fighting broke out at the burial of another protester.
Arab world protests 16.2.11
Some 2,000 were camped out at a major road junction in the centre of Manama, hoping to emulate the rallies on Cairo's Tahrir Square and demanding a change of government.
Bahrainis have a history of protest and the current unrest, in its third day, has been driven by familiar complaints of economic hardships, lack of political freedoms and sectarian discrimination by the Sunni rulers against the Shi'ite majority.
Protesters want the removal of the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has governed since British rule ended in 1971. For now, they have not sought change at the very top - his nephew, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has ultimate control over the 1.3 million people in Bahrain, half of them foreigners.
"We are requesting our rights in a peaceful way," said Bakr Akil, a 20 year-old student. He wore a sheet stained with red ink which he said showed he was willing to die for freedom.
The Bahraini Interior Ministry has promised to take legal action over the two deaths if it finds police used "unjustifiable" force. King Hamad went on television to express his condolences for "the deaths of two of our dear sons," and said a committee would investigate. Last week, apparently seeking to defuse discontent, he offered cash payouts of some $2,500 to every local family.
Though itself only a minor oil exporter, Bahrain's stability is important for neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and a key supporter of Bahrain's royal family. An upset in Bahrain could embolden marginalized Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia.
At 750 square kilometers, Bahrain is about the size of Singapore. Bahrain is also a hub for banking and financial services in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.
Bahrain is considered the most vulnerable among Gulf Arab states to popular unrest in a region where, in an unwritten pact, rulers have traded a share of their oil wealth for political submission. Discontent has been expressed in sporadic unrest since the mid-1990s, well before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists across the region.
Libya protesters take to the streets
Hundreds of Libyan protesters took to the streets of the country's second largest city on Wednesday demanding that the government be ousted, in a sign that the unrest of the region has spread to the North African Arab nation.
Protesters in the port city of Benghazi chanted slogans demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, witnesses said, clashing with government supporters.
There were no calls for longtime leader Muammar Gadhafi to step down. On Monday, however, several opposition groups in exile called for the overthrow of Gadhafi and for a peaceful transition of power in Libya.
As in the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings, Libyans are using social networking websites like Facebook in calling for a nation-wide day of protests on Thursday.
The online edition of Libya's privately-owned Quryna newspaper reported that a crowd of people angry at the arrest of a rights campaigner had gathered armed with petrol bombs and stones.
It said they protested outside a local government office to demand the release of the human rights activist, and then went to the city's Shajara square where they clashed with police and government supporters.
The rioting ended by morning, said the website, and government supporters had taken over the square. Fourteen people were reportedly wounded, including 10 police officers, but none of the injuries were serious.
Yemen protesters clash, police unable to regain calm
Government loyalists wielding batons and daggers clashed with anti-government protesters in the Yemeni capital on Wednesday. Police were unable to keep the two sides apart as protesters gathered for a demonstration at Sanaa University to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state for more than 30 years.
Hundreds of Saleh backers charged at protesters, who quickly fled. One student was wounded, a Reuters reporter said. A few hundred more student demonstrators emerged from inside the university to try and restart the rally. When police locked them inside the campus, they began throwing rocks at the government loyalists from the campus gate.
Recent protests have been smaller than in preceding weeks, when tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets. But they are erupting more spontaneously and violently, and have become more strident in calling for Saleh's resignation.
The threat of turmoil in Yemen, which is struggling to quash a resurgent wing of al-Qaida and keep rebellions at bay in its north and south, pushed Saleh to promise to step down in 2013 and offer dialogue with the opposition. On Tuesday Saba news reported that Saleh would open his office to Yemenis who wanted to come air their grievances.
The opposition coalition has agreed to negotiate with Saleh, but many young protesters are getting frustrated. "We want change and we want to make that change the way the Egyptians and Tunisians did," said Meshaal Sultan, a Sanaa University student, referring to the revolts that ousted the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia over the last month.
Many say any uprising in Yemen would unfold slowly and with more bloodshed, in a country where one in two people own guns. Analysts have said protests could become more threatening to Saleh if they draw in southern secessionists or northern rebels, whose war with the government last year briefly drew in neighboring oil exporter Saudi Arabia.
Of the 23 million people in Yemen, often close to collapsing into a failed state, 40 percent live on less than $2 a day and a third suffer from chronic hunger.
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