Bahrain's King opens national dialogue as protests continue

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa

As unrest continues to sweep through North Africa and the Middle East, the small oil-rich island of Bahrain is facing its own protests. Bahrain’s king reshuffled his government cabinet and has sat down with demonstrators to try and open a dialogue, but many there are still unhappy with the monarchy that has ruled the country for centuries. Julie Walker reports.

Walker: In Bahrain, hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators have been taking to the streets and occupying the central square in the capital of Manama. They are demanding reform. Some want a constitutional monarchy while others want the ruling family which has been in Bahrain since the 18th century…out. Fatima al Balooshi, minister for social development says King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa wants all sides to come to the table and talk and is afraid the protests are splitting the country and could result in sectarian violence.

al Balooshi : “The greatest fear, that made his majesty the king to come up – he started seeing people demonstrating against each other.  Fear of sectarianism – we don’t want to have this in Bahrain.  We have always lived side by side.”

Walker: The small Persian Gulf nation Bahrain is ruled by Sunni Muslims but the majority of the country —about 70% —is Shiite and form the bulk of the opposition movement. They say they are being mistreated and want their fair share. On Sunday, members of the Shiite party resigned from parliament. al Balooshi says that some anti-government protesters are refusing to join in the “national dialogue”.

al Balooshi : ‘We cannot have a fruitful discussion unless we sit at one table, and we discuss.   And we will probably  will have different media to listen to those people, you know, by having Facebook, Twitter, and everything, everyone can bring his ideas and his thoughts about the future of Bahrain.’

Walker: al-Balooshi said the king had already made several goodwill gestures including opening a national dialogue, reshuffling his cabinet, and expressing condolences for the protesters who were killed when security forces broke up demonstrations last month, as well as an investigation into the events.

al Balooshi : 'Even as a goodwill of the governmen, the king has given his order to release all the prisoners, which is around 408 prisoners so far.  Those are all the prisoners who have been held since last year for the causes of demonstration.

Walker: al Balooshi acknowledges that Bahrain is not the same country it once was and that protesters voices will be heard. She even says that social media is one reason the government there won’t be able to not hear the people.   Julie Walker, United Nations.

duration: 2’16″

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