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Bahrain police disperse protests on anniversary
(AFP) DUBAI — Bahraini police dispersed protesters who made several attempts Tuesday to mark the anniversary of last year’s uprising by marching to the site of the protest that was brutally crushed, witnesses said. Several marches took off from Shiite villages on the outskirts of Manama hoping to reach the capital’s Pearl Square, where democracy demonstrators camped out for a month last year before being forcefully driven out.
Protesters marched from Sanabis, Deih and Jidhafs, all west of Manama, despite police warning that protests would be dispersed, witnesses said. “Down with (King) Hamad!” they chanted, referring to the Sunni monarch whose Al-Khalifa dynasty has ruled the Shiite-majority Gulf kingdom since the 18th century.
The Coalition of the Youth of February 14th Revolution, a hardline group that operates apart from the political opposition led by Al-Wefaq, declared Tuesday the day to return to the square that was razed after the mid-March crackdown. “All of us are returning” to the square, read a call to protest posted on its Facebook page, designating 6:40 am (0340 GMT) as the starting time. The coalition posted footage of youth dressed in white Islamic death shrouds running through alleyways, claiming they were heading to tsquare that is heavily protected by security forces.
One picture showed women dressed in traditional black abayas (cloaks) standing close to the square flashing the victory sign.
Al-Wefaq charged that the security forces detained 13 people, including female activist Maasouma al-Sayyed who reportedly reached the square, while rights activist Mohammed al-Muskati said nine women in total were arrested. Al-Wefaq said police raided Shiite villages where many houses were hit by tear gas canisters, and that several arrests took place overnight.
In a statement issued in the evening, Al-Wefaq vowed that the Bahraini protest movement would continue, accusing the government of being “tyrannical.” “The Bahraini people will pursue their (protest) movement… and the authorities will be unable to bend their determination,” the opposition group said. The official Bahrain News Agency meanwhile said that “a group of saboteurs” were arrested and would be put on trial.
It also reported that arsonists set on fire a power generator in the Shiite village of Al-Muqsha near Manama and were throwing Molotov cocktails at firefighters trying to put out the blaze.
Activists have called for demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday at the square.
Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, who has been holding daily protests in Manama with a group of activists, called for another march to Pearl Square. “Let’s drive at 3:30 pm (1230 GMT) towards the square, step out of cars and run to the (Pearl) roundabout,” he wrote on his twitter account.
But successive attempts by protesters to reach the square have failed, with Facebook pages showing images of just a handful reaching its outskirts A picture posted online showed Rajab and two companions stopped by police on the main highway leading to the former Pearl Square. Leading Wefaq activist and former MP Matar Matar told AFP security measures taken by authorities to prevent demonstrations amount to an “undeclared state of emergency.” King Hamad called for “cohesion” among Bahrainis in a statement released Monday to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the referendum on the charter that restored parliament after it was dissolved in 1975.
“Let’s begin a new phase of serious and sincere action aimed to achieve what is good for our homeland and its people,” he said, as the Sunni-Shiite rift has grown deeper in the tiny but strategic nation. Bahraini security forces, boosted by Gulf troops that rolled in from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, quelled the month-long protest that appeared to take a cue from Arab Spring uprisings.
The death toll from last year’s unrest was 35, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death while in custody, an international probe found last November. But Amnesty International said “at least a further 20 have died since” as a result of what it called the continued use of excessive force by security personnel.