Bahrainis have staged impromptu protests overnight to demand the release of political prisoners amid the ongoing violent crackdown by regime forces.
The protests were held in several towns and villages across the kingdom on Friday night. Demonstrators also demanded the downfall of the Al Khalifa regime, Press TV reported.
On Thursday, Bahraini women staged an anti-regime protest in the village of Mahaza in solidarity with jailed female activists.
Opposition rallies have continued in Bahrain in defiance of a government ban on public gatherings. The government’s harsh crackdown on demonstrations has failed to keep protesters off the streets.
Since a popular uprising began in Bahrain in mid-February 2011, scores have been killed, many of them under torture while in custody, and thousands more detained.
Bahraini authorities have also sacked hundreds of people from their jobs for taking part in peaceful anti-regime demonstrations.
A report published by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in November 2011 found that the Al Khalifa regime had used excessive force in the crackdown on protests, criticizing Manama for torturing political activists, politicians, and protesters.
Bahrainis say they will continue to hold anti-regime demonstrations until their demands for the establishment of a democratically-elected government and an end to rights violations are met.
Only Political Process Can Save Syria
The international mediator seeking peace in Syria warned of “hell” if no deal is struck to end 21 months of bloodshed.
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both said there was still a chance for a negotiated solution to the conflict, Reuters reported.
But Lavrov firmly repeated Russia’s stance that President Bashar Al-Assad’s exit cannot be a precondition for a political solution, saying that such demands were “wrong” and that the opposition’s refusal to talk to the government was a “dead end”.
“If the only alternative is really hell or a political process. then all of us must work ceaselessly for a political process,” Brahimi said. “It is difficult, it is very complicated but there is no other choice.”
Lavrov issued a similar exhortation in a joint appearance at an ornate mansion where he meets foreign dignitaries, saying: “The chance for a political settlement remains and it is our obligation to make maximal use of that chance.”
But Lavrov, whose country has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions meant to put pressure on Assad, gave no indication it would back down from that stance.
“When the opposition says only Assad’s exit will allow it to begin a dialogue about the future of its own country, we think this is wrong, we think this is rather counterproductive,” he said. “The costs of this precondition are more and more lives of Syrian citizens.”
Lavrov noted that Assad has said publicly and privately that he would not go, adding that Russia “does not have the ability to change this”.
Brahimi is trying to build on a plan agreed in Geneva in June by the United States, Russia and other powers that called for a transitional government but left Assad’s role unclear.
“The core of that political process ... is and must be the Geneva agreement,” said Brahimi, who took over as the UN-Arab League envoy after Kofi Annan quit in frustration at divisions among world powers, chiefly the United States and Russia, and the failure of the Geneva accord to bring a resolution closer.
“There may be one or two little adjustments to make here and there, but it is a reasonable basis for a political process that will help the Syrian people,” he said, without elaborating.
Brahimi, who met Assad and others on a five-day trip to Syria this week, is to meet senior US and Russian diplomats together in the coming weeks, after two such meetings this month that produced no signs of a breakthrough.
In Damascus on Thursday, Brahimi called for a transitional government to rule until elections in Syria and said only substantial change would meet demands of ordinary Syrians, but did not specify who could be part of such a body.
A spokesman for the opposition National Coalition said on Friday the coalition “will not negotiate with the Assad regime”, and its leader rebuffed Russia’s first invitation for talks, demanding that Lavrov apologize for Russia’s support for Assad and that Russia issue a clear call for him to step down.
Egypt President Warns Against New Unrest
Egypt’s Islamist president has warned against any unrest that could harm the drive to repair the country’s economy in a sharply worded speech pushing the opposition to work with his government.
Mohammed Morsi made the comments in his first speech to the newly convened upper house of parliament, saying it was time for the nation to turn to “production, work, seriousness” after two years of turmoil.
He said all sides must “realize the needs of the moment” and work only through “mature democracy while avoiding violence.” He said violence from any faction was “totally rejected.”
The past month saw a surge in unrest when the opposition launched a wave of protests against a new constitution, and Islamist supporters of the president held counter-rallies.
Morsi and his backers say the constitution is needed to advance Egypt’s transition from decades of military-backed autocratic rule. Opponents say it is too Islamist and ignores the rights of women and of minorities, including 10 percent of Egyptians who are Christian.
Demonstrations erupted when Morsi awarded himself extra powers on November 22 and then fast-tracked the constitution through an assembly that is dominated by his Islamist allies and boycotted by many liberals.
Egypt’s opposition have accused Morsi’s Islamist allies of trying to muzzle dissent on Friday after prosecutors decided to investigate whether prominent government critics were guilty of sedition.
The probe, which comes a month after Morsi replaced the chief prosecutor, further sours the political climate as the leader and his opponents face off over a new constitution that became law on Wednesday.
The constitution text won about 64 percent approval in a two-stage referendum but Morsi’s opponents vowed to continue protests and rejected his calls for a national dialogue.
Prosecutors ordered the inquiry into three of the president’s most prominent opponents on Thursday - former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy.
The prosecutor’s office said the three had been accused of inciting supporters to rise up and overthrow Morsi, the country’s first fairly elected leader.
Jordanian Protesters Hold Nationwide Demos
Jordanian protesters took to the streets across the country to call for political reforms and price cuts.
During demonstrations on Friday, protesters called on the government to prevent the prices of everyday goods, and especially fuel, from rising, Jordan’s Petra news agency reported.
Prices of everyday items have soared in Jordan in recent months.
The prices of natural gas cylinders, diesel fuel, and gasoline increased by 54, 33, and 15 percent respectively on November 13, when government subsidies were withdrawn to tackle a budget deficit of 3.5 billion dinars ($5 billion).
The demonstrators also chanted slogans against the country’s intelligence agency, demanded the release of prisoners arrested during previous anti-government demonstrations, and called for a boycott of parliamentary elections scheduled for January 23.
Jordanians have been holding demonstrations since January 2011, demanding political reforms, including the election of the prime minister by popular vote and an end to corruption.
Since the demonstrations began, Jordanian ruler King Abdullah II has sacked three prime ministers to appease the protesters.
Arab Officials Visit Palestinian Territory
Top Arab officials paid a rare visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Saturday to discuss a Palestinian financial crisis that Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas hopes will be eased by Arab donations.
Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr congratulated the Palestinians on a successful United Nations status upgrade last month, but stopped short of promising the badly-needed funds.
“Palestine is in need of material and political support,” Elaraby told a news conference in the Palestinians’ de facto capital of Ramallah.
“Arab countries agreed at their Baghdad summit (in March) for an Arab safety net of $100 million dollars each month, but unfortunately none of this has been achieved yet,” he said.
Palestinian were cheered by a strong majority in the United Nations recognizing them as an “observer state” on November 29 but have struggled to get Arab support to make up $100 million in shortfalls left by Israeli sanctions following the UN move.
Elaraby is the first Arab League Chief to visit Ramallah, but he and other prominent Arab and Islamic leaders, including the Egyptian prime minister, met Abbas’s Palestinian Hamas rivals in Gaza during their brief war with Israel last month.
Building Materials in Gaza
Egypt allowed building materials into Gaza via the Rafah crossing on Saturday for the first time since Hamas seized control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, an Egyptian border official said.