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Violence In Bahrain As Antigovernment Protests Sweep Through Middle East

by Ron Synovitz, with agency reports

Two Shi'ite protesters in Bahrain have died following antigovernment rallies, sparking opposition calls to step up demonstrations and a mass turnout at their funerals.

A Shi'ite woman holds a paper with the word "Peaceful" as she takes part in an antigovernment protest in the town of Jidhafs in Bahrain today. The main opposition Shi'ite bloc responded to the violence by pulling its deputies out of the parliament today.

Although 70 percent of Bahrain's population is Shi'ite, the country is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy. Demonstrators want to bring an end to the rule of the Al-Khalifa family of King Hamad, which includes Prime Minister Khalifa Al Khalifa and has a tight grip on other government ministries.

One demonstrator died from injuries he sustained late on February 14 when Bahraini police dispersed crowds of antigovernment protesters in a village east of Manama.

The Interior Ministry said the protester's death was "due to his wounds." The ministry says it has opened an inquiry into whether police resorted to "unjustified use of arms" to disperse the protest in the village of Diya.

Violence then erupted today as thousands of mourners took part in a protest rally and funeral procession for the victim of the February 14 violence.

Shi'ite opposition member of parliament Khalil al-Marzooq said a second man was shot dead by a hollow-point bullet used by security forces in front of Suleimaneya hospital in Bahrain's capital, Manama.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry said "some of the people participating in the funeral clashed with forces from a security patrol," leading to the man's death.

News of the two deaths prompted activists to post pictures of both men on a Facebook page that calls for more antigovernment rallies in Bahrain, a U.S. ally that is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

All across the Middle East -- from Algeria to Yemen, Syria, Iran, and Jordan -- antigovernment protesters have been emboldened by mass demonstrations that led to the ouster of autocratic presidents in Tunisia and Egypt.

Spread through social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, the wave of antigovernment demonstrations was discussed by the Arab League in Cairo today.

"[Arab League members] arrived at the conclusion that there is a new Arab reality, and that is that there are young people trying to achieve development and democracy," said Ahmed bin Helli, the body's deputy secretary-general. "And so it is necessary that there be coexistence in a common Arab destiny and with Arab societies. This is a new reality."

Protests In Yemen, Too

Meanwhile, some 3,000 people were protesting today in Yemen for a fifth consecutive day to demand political reforms and the ouster of the country's U.S.-allied President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years.

Correspondents report that a small contingent of police tried to disperse the demonstrators using tear gas and batons. But the protesters were continuing their march today from Sanaa University toward the city center.

Tensions were high as a heavy police force and some 2,000 pro-government supporters gathered today in the city center and were waiting for the demonstrators.

In remarks to be delivered later today at George Washington University, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is challenging autocratic regimes in Iran, the broader Middle East, and elsewhere to embrace online freedom and to listen to the demands of cyberdissidents or risk being toppled by tides of unrest.

According to advanced excerpts from her speech, Clinton says the United States supports an end to restrictions on Internet usage that have become common amid calls for change.

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