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Bahrain protesters make camp beneath capital landmark

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Protesters make camp in Manama's Pearl Roundabout early Wednesday
  • The king calls for a probe of the deaths and a committee to study reforms
  • A man was at a funeral procession for a protester when he was fatally injured
  • Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima died after being shot Monday

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(CNN) -- Thousands of activists camped out at the foot of a Bahraini landmark early Wednesday after the Persian Gulf state's king pledged to consider reforms and investigate the killings of two demonstrators during protests this week.

Police were nowhere in sight as about 3,000 people laid out blankets and pitched tents in Manama's Pearl Roundabout, where a massive pearl sits at the apex of a circle of inward-sweeping arches. Police gave the area a wide berth, apparently allowing protesters to vent their anger before Wednesday's funeral for one of the dead, said Mansoor Al-Jamri, editor of the newspaper Al Wasat.

"It's a very relaxed atmosphere," Al-Jamri told CNN. "You'd assume it was a picnic area if you didn't know it was the aftermath of people who died." Demonstrators painted anti-government slogans on the bases of the monument, sang, told jokes and led chants into the early morning hours, he said.

Bahrain is the latest Arab state to face a surge of dissent following the revolts that toppled longtime autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt. The Gulf island's ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, went on television Tuesday to announce that a committee would be established to study proposed reforms.

"We will ask the legislative authority to look at this phenomena and to suggest the necessary legislation which will solve this in a way that will benefit the homeland and its citizens," he said. And he vowed that his government would investigate the killings of two protesters by security forces.

Egypt's domino effect
Bahrain's king condemns protester deaths

Hamad called the two deaths unfortunate and offered his condolences to their families, adding, "May God give them patience and forbearance.

"The kingdom of Bahrain is a country of law and constitutional institutions," he said. "We have a law that organizes peaceful demonstrations that was decreed by an elected committee. The right to express one's opinion is a right that is given by the constitution and has been organized by the law which we must all follow."

The first of the two dead, Ali Abdulhadi Mushaima, was killed Monday while protesting for human rights in the village of Daih, near Manama, said Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. The second, 31-year-old Fadhel Matrook, was one of thousands who attended Mushaima's funeral procession Tuesday.

Human rights groups say Matrook was shot by security forces using pellet guns. Maryam Al-Khawaja, from the center, told the international human rights group Amnesty International that police attacked the funeral procession with pellets and tear gas within minutes of its onset.

Activists have decried the use of pellet guns at short range by Bahrain's security forces. Amnesty International called the deaths "tragic" and "a very worrying development." Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said authorities must make clear that the "use of excessive force will not be tolerated."

In a recent report, the group said Bahraini authorities detained 23 opposition political activists in August and September and held them without contact for two weeks, "during which some allege they were tortured."

Bahrain's Interior Ministry said on its website that an investigation has been ordered to find out the reason behind the incident. The kingdom's main opposition party, al Wifaq, has suspended its participation in parliament because of the security forces' action.

Bahrain is an American ally and houses the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. In Washington, the State Department said it was "very concerned" by the violence and said it welcomed the promise of an investigation.

"We urge that it follow through on these statements as quickly as possible," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement issued late Tuesday. "We also call on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence."

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim royal family, but two-thirds of the population are Shiites. In recent years, younger Shiites have staged violent protests to complain about discrimination, unemployment and corruption, and many Shiites say the country's constitution has done little to improve their condition.

The protest movement in Bahrain has been organized using social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, in the same manner as the protests in Tunisia and Egypt.

CNN's Jenifer Fenton contributed to this report