x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

One protester killed by tear gas in Bahrain

There were reported clashes between demonstrators, some of whom called for the fall of Bahrain's ruling royal family, in the Shiite villages of al-Dair and Diraz.

MANAMA // Small, scattered protests broke out in Shiite villages outside this capital city yesterday, leading to one death, even as a huge show of force by Bahraini police and army persuaded most citizens to stay home.

Backed up at times by fighter planes and helicopters, the security forces of the Sunni-dominated government erected checkpoints on access roads to most Shiite areas lining BudaiyaRoad in anticipation of demonstrations after Friday prayers.

All demonstrations are banned under the three-month period of martial law declared March 15, and most streets were deserted today with few cars.

There were reported clashes between demonstrators, some of whom called for the fall of Bahrain's ruling royal family, in the Shiite villages of al-Dair and Diraz, Reuters reported. A resident of Sitra said there also was a confrontation there, as well as in Sanabis. And in Ma'ameer, 71-year-old Isa Mohammed Ali died after being overcome by tear gas fumes, according to the opposition party, Wefaq.

In the village of Jidhafs, police forces marched through exploding tear gas and sound bombs in an apparent attempt to intimidate residents, according to a journalist who observed the scene.

Meanwhile, a maternity clinic in the Shiite area of Shahrakkan was flattened yesterday by bulldozers protected by heavily armed soldiers, according to witnesses. A Bahraini journalist said attempts to get an explanation for the action from the government had failed.

As the day's events illustrate, Bahrain is tense and mired in a dangerous stalemate between its ruling Sunni monarchy and its Shiite citizens who make up more than 60 per cent of the native population of around 700,000.

Ever since the March 16 rout of protesters from Manama's Pearl Roundabout, which ended a month-long, pro-reform movement inspired by similar movements in Tunisia and Egypt, the Bahraini government has made clear that it won't tolerate any type of dissent.

The government has not disclosed the number of political detainees it is holding. The opposition Wefaq Party has collected the names of around 110 people who are missing.

The Education Ministry confirmed yesterday that it is withdrawing scholarships starting in the fall from 40 students pursuing their education aboard because they allegedly "called for the downfall of the ruling system". As a result, the ministry "has decided to deprive them from a privilege they do not deserve, as any government will do in similar cases", a ministry official said. There also have been instances of violence against government critics in recent weeks. The home of Munira Fakhro, a leading figure in the opposition Waad Party, has been hit by Molotov cocktails twice, the last time Thursday night. No one was injured, but the night attacks by unknown persons blackened the walls of her whitewashed home and broke windows.

In an interview this week at her home, Fakhro said she did not know who perpetrated the attacks. No one has so far been arrested. She added that the current situation of disturbances and divisions "might last for a long time" and won't end until the government agrees to "sit on the dialogue table" with the opposition.

Aware of the tough stance being shown towards protesters, seven major opposition parties said Thursday that they did not endorse the internet calls for protests yesterday and urged people not to participate, according to Wefaq party activist Sayed Hadi Al Mosawi.

"We know these protests will add some more blood and always we concentrate on [being a] peaceful movement," he said.

The most prominent Shiite opposition cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, also urged worshippers at midday prayers yesterday to maintain their commitment to peaceful opposition. "I reaffirm that we started peacefully, and we will remain peaceful, despite all provocations and sufferings," he said in his sermon at Al-Sadiq Grand Mosque in Diraz.

According to one worshipper, the congregation was smaller and more subdued than previous weeks.

"We must be patient," the sheikh said. "We do not call for divisions and we will not respond to those who are attempting to categorise us in a certain way. We will not be agitated towards actions that are contrary to our nature. We call for our dignity, and dignity of all people, without any difference on the basis of sect or religion."

Mansour Al Jamri, editor of the opposition Al Wasat newspaper, said in an interview this week that the problem facing Bahrain needs compromise from both sides and that the approach being used by the government won't work.

"I don't think the security campaign will resolve any crisis in Bahrain," he said. "It requires a political decision and the sooner the better. If it does not come soon, it will have a wider impact in the region."