DUBAI, (Asharq Al-Awsat/ AGENCIES) – Bahrain’s crown prince, known as a reformer among royals in the Gulf Arab kingdom, called on Friday for calm, saying it was “time for dialogue, not fighting.”
Thousands of mainly Shi’ite demonstrators, emboldened by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, have held protests in Bahrain since a “Day of Rage” on February 14 to demand more say in the Sunni-ruled island state.
“The dialogue is always open and the reforms continue,” Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa said on Bahrain TV. “This land is for all citizens of Bahrain … All honest people at this time should say ‘enough’.”
“We need to call for self-restraint from all sides, the armed forces, security men and citizens,” he said. “I urge you, there should be calm. Now is time for calm.”
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has asked the crown prince to start a national dialogue “with all parties” to resolve the crisis rocking the island kingdom, an official statement said.
Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa had been given “all the powers to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of all gracious citizens from all sections”, it added.
King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa rules a population of 1.3 million, half of them expatriates. The U.S. State Department estimates that 70 percent of Bahraini nationals are Shi’ites.
“I respect Wefaq, as I respect others. Today is the time to sit down and hold a dialogue, not to fight,” the crown prince said.
Wefaq, the main Shi’ite bloc with 17 of 40 assembly seats, competes with Sunni Islamist groups and the secular group Waad.
Wefaq MPs all resigned from parliament on Thursday in protest at the police raid on Pearl Square.
The overthrow of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this year has inspired popular revolts elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East..
Bahrain’s crown prince also most recently ordered the withdrawal of all military from the streets of Bahrain, the government said in a statement on Saturday.
“His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces has ordered the withdrawal of all military from the streets of Bahrain with immediate effect,” the statement said.
Bahrain’s police force will “continue to oversee law and order”, the statement said.