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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Bahrain security forces deploy to stop planned three-day protest

Demonstrators marching toward the city centre met barricades manned by security forces who fired tear-gas and stun grenades to disperse them. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

Bahraini security forces were deployed across the country yesterday to deter opposition protests and a planned three-day campaign of civil disobedience.

A network of opposition activists had also called for a general strike in a move seen as a test of Bahrain's new laws that raise the minimum penalties for terror cases and ban protests in the capital, Manama.

Demonstrators marching toward the city centre met barricades manned by security forces who fired tear-gas and stun grenades to disperse them.

Dozens of small-scale demonstrations took place in mostly-Shiite villages around the capital, however, and witnesses reported that private businesses were closed in opposition areas of the island.

"Many shops which are owned by private people are closed on Budaiya road" outside Manama that runds along several Shiite villages, said Said Yousif AlMuhafda, head of documentation at the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights. "Village inhabitants went out protesting across Bahrain despite the security presence and checkpoints."

He said 15 people were arrested and 10 injured, one seriously, in clashes between protesters and security forces.

Protesters also used burning tyres to block the main road from the airport to Manama yesterday morning and one Asian worker was reported injured after being hit by Molotov cocktails, the ministry of the interior said.

The Coalition of Youth of the 14 February Revolution, an online network of opposition activists, organised the strike, which was inspired by the opposition Tamarod movement in Egypt.

But Bahrain's state media BNA reported that the strike was unsuccessful.

"Bahrainis and expatriates reported to work on Wednesday just like any other day defying calls by radical opposition groups," the news agency said.

Bahrain has been rocked by near-daily demonstrations since February 2011, when protesters took to the streets to call for reform. Many in the opposition are Shiites who argue that they are politically and economically marginalised.

Bahraini opposition youth called for a three-day campaign of mass civil disobedience starting on August 14, marking the anniversary of island's independence from Britain in 1971.

The government began a dialogue with political groups last February, but talks have stalled and protests have continued. At least 90 people have died in clashes between police and demonstrators over the past two and a half years, according to Bahrain's public prosecution.

"We recommend avoiding clashes," a statement issued by the youth group on Tuesday warned its supporters, urging them "not to be drawn towards direct confrontation" with police forces.

Bahrain's government had promised a firm response to the demonstrations after an escalation in violence by some parts of the opposition in recent months, which has used makeshift explosions and Molotov cocktails.

"The government will forcefully confront the suspicious calls to violate law and order and those who stand behind them through decisive measures," BNA quoted prime minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa saying on Monday.

The US Embassy was closed yesterday "as a precautionary measure", according to a statement posted on its website that also urged American citizens to avoid unnecessary travel within and to Bahrain.

Some segments of the opposition had called for demonstrations in front of the embassy to protest against Washington's alliance with Bahrain, which hosts the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Meanwhile, political society Al Wefaq, a Shiite group, reported that 208 opposition supporters had been arrested in July in the lead-up to the planned protests. Al Wefaq said in a separate statement that the internet - key to organising demonstrations - had been cut off in parts of the country yesterday.

edickinson@thenational.ae

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