Al Jazeera Blogs


Middle East

Protesters dig in at Bahraini financial hub

Hundreds of protesters are camped out in front of Manama's Financial Harbour, defying a police order to leave.
Last modified: 7 Mar 2011 17:31
For a country dependent on its reputation as a financial hub, the ongoing protests are believed to be costing the economy dear

Hundreds of anti-government protesters seem to be gearing up for a long stay outside a main financial hub in downtown Bahrain, one of three demonstrations across the capital on Monday.

A small group of demonstrators travelled to the US embassy in southern Manama this morning, where they waved signs asking the US to "stop supporting dictators." A spokesman for the US embassy said his government was "listening to all sides."

A second group, numbering several hundred, staged a protest outside an interior ministry office in the capital's Adliya neighbourhood.

The third - and longest-running - protest centred on the Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH), a major commercial hub in the business district of Manama, where a number of protesters have been camped out on Sunday night.

About 300 protesters lined the streets outside, the financial centre on Monday afternoon, chanting the usual slogans ("Down with Hamad!", "We are brothers, Sunni and Shia, this country is not for sale") and waving Bahraini flags.

One pickup truck brought biryani and bottled water to the crowd, and another arrived carrying a speaker system, which protesters have used to chant slogans against the ruling family.

There was a tense moment when a woman motorist pulled over and got into an argument with the protesters, then sped away, knocking down two people in the process.

An ambulance quickly arrived to take away the injured protesters. Several people said they managed to take photographs of the woman and expect police to investigate the incident on the basis of this information.

One-dinar notes

Earlier, some of the protesters had been waving one-dinar notes - a reference to an [unconfirmed] story that Bahrain's prime minister bought the land on which BFH now sits for just one Bahraini dinar ($2.65).

They circulated photocopies of a "property contract" showing the alleged sale price, but obviously it is impossible to confirm the authenticity of the document.

Whether or not the story is true, it resonated with protesters frustrated by the kingdom's housing shortage. Real-estate prices have increased exponentially over the last few years, and many lower-income Bahrainis struggle to afford housing.

"Right now, to buy a plot of land that's 60 metres by 80 metres [roughly one acre], that would cost you 70,000 dinars ($185,000)," said Mohammed Ali, a protester who said he walked over from his job at the nearby foreign ministry.

Police asked the protesters to leave, but they did quite the opposite, pitching another tent on the street; some of them plan to spend the night, despite fears that police will use force to clear the street.

"I'd give it a 50 per cent chance that they will try to take this back tonight," said a man named Ali who declined to give his last name. "Lulu [Pearl Roundabout] is important, but there is money here, so this place is even more important."

The police presence is currently quite small, about a dozen officers. There were rumours that they issued an ultimatum to protesters - leave by 2pm, or else - but 2pm came and went, as did 3pm, and 4pm. The officers kept their distance, most of them standing across the busy King Faisal Highway.

Bahraini security forces have not clashed with protesters since last month, when seven people were killed.