Slain protester embodied woes of Bahrain's Shi'ites

MANAMA Sat Mar 19, 2011 11:21am EDT

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MANAMA (Reuters) - Penniless, unmarried and unemployed, 30-year-old Ali Farhan embodied many of the grievances that propelled Bahraini Shi'ites to protest in the street -- only to be buried in a sandy grave.

Thousands shouting "Down with the regime" watched as his wooden coffin was lowered into a rocky plot on Friday among nameless graves overrun with brittle weeds and faded flags.

Farhan is one of eleven demonstrators to die in clashes with security forces since protests first rocked Manama last month.

He was one of the thousands of mostly Shi'ite protesters from ramshackle suburbs that ring the capital, who complain they are neglected by their Sunni rulers on the island, a regional financial hub where the U.S. Navy houses Fifth Fleet.

"I feel what I think everyone's feeling -- there's a pain like my heart is burning up ... but we'll continue our protests until this regime falls," said Youssef Ali, a friend of Farhan who shared a prison cell with him when the two were around 15.

In the late 1990s, a youthful Farhan joined protests for reform. He was rounded up, and released after three years in jail. He never finished school and could never make ends meet as a fisherman.

Bahrain's majority Shi'ites, who make up more than 60 percent of the population, have long complained of discrimination in jobs and services.

Most are calling for a constitutional monarchy and democratic reforms. A smaller number have also demanded the overthrow of the monarchy, alarming the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family and prompting their clampdown.

Farhan's dream of a wife and family was impossible. With no good job or money, he never moved out of the three rooms of concrete slabs and sheet metal that housed 10 other family members.

On March 15, he told his sister it was too much to bear. He drove out to join protesters gathered in the heart of the city.

"We heard gunshots. He said he couldn't take it anymore. He said, 'Why should we be silent?'" his sister Fatima recalled.

"He told me there will need to be some bloodshed. Without it we wont be able to win," she shouted, standing in one of their tiny rooms amid sobbing female relatives crouched on the floor.

An hour after he left Fatima, Farhan was shot several times in the back of the head with buckshot. His skull was split open, his brain spilled out into the street.

"I'm glad that he died as a martyr. But I feel his absence. He helped me raise my four children, he helped me wash our clothes ... We did everything together," she said.

Outside, rising anti-Khalifa chants at the funeral drowned out the drone of a police helicopter flying overhead.

"The Khalifa family is on its way out," Farhan's brother- in-law, Mahmoud, said. "In the end, our problem with them isn't political, it's about our humanity ... Next time, we'll all go out into the streets, men and women. No one will stay home."

(Editing by Peter Graff)

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