Mullen visits Bahrain amid unrests
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has met Bahraini officials in Manama amid the nation's popular uprising calling for the ouster of its ruler.
He arrived in Manama on Thursday and was due to meet Bahrain's King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman, AFP reported.
Mullen, who is on a tour of the region, says his visit is aimed at “reaffirming, reassuring and also trying to understand where the leaderships of these countries are going, and in particular in Bahrain.”
Bahrain's al-Khalifa dynasty is a key regional ally of the US in the Persian Gulf. The oil-rich kingdom is home to US Navy's Fifth Fleet.
Washington insists that the Fifth Fleet should remain in Bahrain, despite the mounting pro-democracy uprising in the country that seeks to topple the pro-US government in Manama.
Bahrainis are due to swarm the capital's main square on Friday to commemorate the death of those shot by government troops during recent pro-democracy protest rallies.
At least seven people have been killed in 11 consecutive days of popular protests calling for the ouster of the Al-Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the country for over 200 years.
The Persian Gulf island's leading Shia clerics have called on the masses to rally in Pearl Square on Friday to "mourn the martyrs," AFP reported on Wednesday.
The Shias enjoy demographic predominance in the kingdom. They, however, have long complained about being discriminated against by the Sunni-led government when it comes to employment opportunities and the right to services.
From August to October, when the country held parliamentary polls, the monarchy arrested more than 250 Shias, accusing 23 of them of plotting a coup and provoking "violence, rioting and terrorism."
The arrests were interpreted as part of Manama's plans to rig the election.
The public, enraged by the government's brutal attempts to suppress the protests, has set up a tent city in the square -- which they now call the “Martyrs' Roundabout” -- camping out for the past five nights to persist on their demands.