DUBAI (Reuters) - 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.”
Bahraini troops shot at protesters near Pearl Square on Friday and wounded 23, a former Shi‘ite lawmaker said. At least four Bahraini protestors were killed on Thursday when riot police drove activists from a makeshift camp in the capital.
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..
Reporting by Martina Fuchs and Firouz Sedarat; editing by Alistair Lyon