Bahrain: Peaceful protest gassed
PROWLING PROTESTERS: Bahraini protesters seen during clashes with police after a protest against that country's 2013 F1 GP in the village of Sanabis, west of capital Manama. image: AFP
Author: ALEXANDER DZIADOSZ
MANAMA, Barain - Bahrain police fired tear gas in clashes with youths when thousands of opposition supporters rallied peacefully for democracy on Friday.
The protest came two days before the 2013 Bahrain Formula 1 GP in the island state.
An authorised rally attended by men, women and children west of the capital, Manama, was orderly but as it broke up dozens of young men skirmished with security forces who were firing tear gas.
BIGGEST SPORT EVENT
The youths, many wearing black-and-white masks, burned boxes, a rubbish bin and tyres in the road. The gas scattered them.
Many in the Shi'ite Muslim-majority state accuse the Sunni-led government of trying to use Sunday's race to paper over human rights abuses and disguise political problems that, they said, still plague the country, a close US ally and home to US warships.
The opposition hoped the spotlight on the kingdom's biggest sporting event would help its struggle gain wider attention.
Bahrain has grappled with unrest since pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in February 2011, inspired by the ''Arab Spring" revolts that swept the region that year. The protests were crushed by Saudi-backed security forces, dozens were killed, and the state razed Pearl Square in central Manama where mostly Shi'ite demonstrators had camped out.
The 2011 GP was cancelled after protests were crushed; that of 2012 went ahead against a backdrop of burning tyres and riot police firing tear gas at protesters who were throwing petrol bombs in Shi'ite Muslim villages.
Many at Friday's protest held banners reading "I Love Bahrain". Some carried roses or national flags. Posters called for the release of activists from prison. Others carried inflatable tyres reading "No to the bloody Formula".
They chanted "We reject tyrannical rule", "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you Bahrain" and "Down with Hamad" (the country's king). The atmosphere had been largely peaceful.
Mohamed al-Sughayer, a 61-year-old retired engineer, said he was at the protest to press for more democracy in the island kingdom that is ruled by the al-Khalifa family. "The regime is trying to say everything is stable in Bahrain but stability cannot come through aggression."
Much of Bahrain has been quiet despite the sporadic unrest with cafes, restaurants and bars in the capital operating normally but small, almost nightly, clashes have continued between youths and police in mainly Shi'ite villages outside Manama.
Opposition activist Ala'a Shehabi told Reuters she believed small protests and clashes took place in about 15 locations on Thursday night and on Friday but could give no other details.
A 58-year-old government employee who gave his name as Abu Mohamed said he believed the overwhelming majority of Bahrainis did not accept the Grand Prix and that the race's economic benefits went to a select few "from the ruler's family". "The money doesn't go for the government, only for the royal family. If it were for the people we would accept it," he added.
Bahrain denies accusations that it discriminates against Shi'ites, carries out arbitrary arrests or abuses detainees. It says it arrests suspects in accordance with the law and that Shi'ite regional power Iran was inciting the unrest, a charge Tehran denies.