MANAMA, (Reuters) – Several hundred Bahrainis marched on Friday against what they said was the mass naturalisation of foreigners, saying it would swing November elections in favour of the government and rob them of jobs.
Riot police closed off the upmarket Seef area of the capital Manama where protesters chanted “No to political naturalisation” and “There are no jobs for Bahrainis but foreigners are all employed.” A police helicopter whirled overhead.
“The government is naturalising (foreigners), and these people are now calling themselves Bahrainis. Of course they are going to vote for the government,” one demonstrator said.
Bahrain, a small U.S.-allied island state in the Gulf, is ruled by Sunni Muslims, but Shi’ites make up the majority of the population.
The Shi’ite-led opposition says the government has naturalised a large number of Sunnis from Arab countries to dilute Shi’ite influence. Officials reject the accusation, saying naturalisation was done according to existing laws and included both Sunnis and Shi’ites.
Parliamentary and municipal elections are due to be held on Nov. 25, and opposition groups are due to take part after boycotting the 2002 polls in protest at what they said was government interference in the make-up of the parliament.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has launched landmark reforms aimed at giving the public more say in the affairs of the Gulf’s financial and banking hub.
Demonstrators also called for a probe into a report alleging election irregularities written by a former government adviser Saleh al Bander.
Bander, a British citizen, was deported from Bahrain this month. Bahraini officials have denounced his report as a fabrication designed to foment civil strife.