Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Bahraini protesters may rally for a third day today after the funeral for the second demonstrator killed during clashes in the Persian Gulf state.
Thousands gathered yesterday in the capital, Manama, to demand democracy and an end to discrimination against the Shiite Muslim majority as unrest inspired by popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt swept across the Middle East. Fighting broke out before the funeral of the first protester killed on Feb. 14, the official Bahrain News Agency said.
Protests in Bahrain, Yemen and Iran raised concerns about instability in a region that holds about three-fifths of global oil reserves. Sunni-ruled Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, and its neighbor Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy and world’s biggest oil producer, are U.S. allies. Many among Bahrain’s populace retain cultural and family links with Shiite-dominated Iran. Saudi Arabia has a Shiite minority population in the Eastern Province, where most of its oil is produced.
“Fear that civil unrest could spread into oil-producing states in the Middle East is keeping investors nervous,” said Andrey Kryuchenkov, an analyst at VTB Capital in London.
Brent crude futures rose Feb. 14 to the highest in more than two years as popular demands for civil rights, invigorated by protests that toppled Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak last week, rattled the region. Brent for April settlement rose to $103.08, the highest settlement since September 2008. It dropped $1.44, or 1.4 percent, to $101.64 yesterday.
The cost of insuring Bahrain sovereign debt soared to the highest since August 2009, according to CMA prices for credit-default swaps. Five-year contracts jumped 20 basis points yesterday to 263.5 basis points.
Iran is the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, producing about 3.7 million barrels a day, according to Bloomberg data. Bahrain pumped about 32,000 barrels a day of crude in 2009 and 1.49 billion cubic feet of gas, according to the national oil and gas authority.
In Yemen, another oil and gas producer, stone-throwing protesters clashed with police yesterday as they marched toward the presidential palace, on the fifth day of demonstrations calling for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule. Iranian security forces the previous day used tear gas to break up the biggest anti-government protests since the aftermath of a disputed presidential election in June 2009.
In Manama late yesterday, Bahraini protesters set up makeshift camps at the Pearl Roundabout, one of the main traffic junctions in the capital. “People are saying that this is our Tahrir Square,” said Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, in an interview. He was referring to the focus of protests in Cairo that led to the ouster of Mubarak.
Shiites, who represent as much as 70 percent of Bahrainis, say they face job and housing discrimination from the ruling Al Khalifa family and its supporters. The country experienced clashes between Shiites and police before parliamentary elections in October.
King Hamad, a Sunni Muslim, has ordered an increase in food subsidies and social welfare payments, and a grant of 1,000 dinars ($2,653) to each Bahraini family. The monarch earlier said that the process of political and social change “will not stop,” the Bahrain News Agency reported. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed Al Khalifa apologized to the nation and said the people who caused the deaths were arrested.
Like Bahrain’s protesters, Iran’s opposition movement says it has drawn inspiration from the Arab revolts that removed Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It accuses Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of meeting popular demands for change with violent repression.
The demonstration in Tehran was backed by opposition leaders including Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, who challenged Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election and said the result was rigged. Tens of thousands of protesters were dispersed by security forces using tear gas and baton charges, Al Jazeera television said. Two people were killed in the unrest, state-run Press TV said.
In Egypt, the army took control after Mubarak’s resignation on Feb. 11 and has pledged to oversee a rewriting of the constitution to prepare for free elections. Tunisia is also preparing for elections under an interim government after Ben Ali’s Jan. 14 ouster, and opposition groups including the main Islamic movement are competing with representatives of the former ruling party to steer the transition.
All of the region’s governments are classified as autocratic regimes in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2010 Democracy Index.
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