DUBAI (AFP) – Shiite protesters took to the streets in Bahrain Friday demanding political reforms in the Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom, witnesses said.
Protesters marched along Budaiya highway, which links Shiite villages west of the capital, following a call by Bahrain's main opposition groups.
Brandishing Bahrain's red and white flags and posters of detainees, demonstrators braved high temperatures and chanted anti-government slogans.
"O, Khalifa, step down," chanted protesters addressing Bahrain's veteran prime minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman, an uncle of King Hamad, who is despised by the Shiite majority.
"Our homeland cannot remain a hostage to a small group that controls power and wealth," said a statement by the opposition led by Al-Wefaq, the main Shiite formation.
"It is the right of the Bahraini people, including all its groups, to have a peaceful rotation of power," it said, referring to its demand for a real constitutional monarchy with an elected premier.
Bahraini authorities last week headed off a protest called for by the Tamarod opposition group, a new faction named after the Egyptian movement that led nationwide protests which triggered the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
The protest was planned to take place at the doorsteps of the US embassy, but tight security measures around Shiite villages prevented protesters from reaching the designated spot.
The authorities crushed mass pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital with the help of Saudi-led troops in 2011 but sporadic protests have continued in the Shiite villages.
At least 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since Arab Spring-inspired pro-democracy protests erupted in February 2011, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.