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Mass opposition rally in Bahrain rejects royal reforms, calls for full democracy

Thousands of protesters rallied in Bahrain on Friday rejecting a proposal of reform by the crown prince as not going far enough
Protesters filled in the streets in Bahrain on Friday to reject a royal proposal of reform (AFP)

Activists in Bahrain said thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on Friday, rejecting a proposal made by the Gulf State’s monarchy on reforming the legislative, security and judicial sectors.

The rally was organised by the island’s opposition and came a day after Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa issued a statement detailing proposed reforms with the aim of accelerating “the resumption of dialogue” with opposition groups.

A national dialogue process has been stalled since January due to sharp differences of opinion over Bahrain’s three yearlong uprising and a failure to agree on a format and agenda for the talks.

Thursday’s statement issued by the island’s official news agency said the crown prince had “initiated a process of wide-ranging political and economic reform”.

“The delivery of the framework today by the Crown Prince is a continuation of Bahrain’s ongoing political development and reform, advancing individual rights, justice and increasing long-term stability in the Kingdom,” it read.

The proposal included provisions to redefine electoral districts, increase accountability for ministers, a commitment to reform the judicial system and new codes of conduct for security forces.

It included a clause allowing parliament to approve the nomination of a prime minister, which until now has been solely the king’s right.

Opposition leaders have criticised the crown prince for not consulting them on the initiative and said it does not go far enough to meet their demands – authorities have been previously accused of failing to follow through on promises of reform by activists and human rights groups.

Protesters on Friday rejected this offer en masse with banners showing their steadfastness in holding out for full democratic reform of the governance system.

Coverage of the protest was streamed live on YouTube and a shorter clip was later posted showing what looked like thousands of people peacefully marching through the streets.

While the organised rally during the day appeared to pass off without confrontation with authorities, in the evening clashes were reported on social media between younger groups of men and security forces.

Unverified footage posted to YouTube seemed to show protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at security services, who chased them away in armoured vehicles and fired what looked like tear gas canisters.

There have been no reports of any injuries to either protesters or security forces as yet.

Bahrain has been in the grip of an uprising since hundreds of thousands of people, mostly members of the majority Shiite community, protested in the capital Manama in February 2011.

Three days after demonstrations began at the Pearl Roundabout government forces broke up protests camps with teargas, birdshot and batons that left at least two dead and hundreds injured.

Since then activists say around 100 protesters have died in the unrest, although the government disputes these figures and says at least 14 police officers have been killed in attacks on their forces.