One Dead As Violence Rocks Bahrain


Ed. Note: This dispatch is updated with more recent information, photos and videos here, here, here, here and here.

Reuters is reporting that police are firing teargas and rubber bullets to break up demonstrations in Bahrain today, and at least one protester killed according to witnesses in a “Day of Rage” stimulated by popular upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia.

Helicopters circled over the Gulf Arab state’s capital Manama, where protesters had been due to gather but which remained quiet as security forces patrolled Shi’ite areas. More than 20 people were hurt, one of them critically, in clashes in Shi’ite villages that ring the capital, witnesses said.

The New York Times reports that 20 Bahraini police officers raised their weapons and fired rubber bullets and canisters of tear gas directly into a small group of protesters chanting slogans and holding signs. One man fell instantly and was shot at as he squirmed on the ground. Another was trapped against a wall and writhed as an officer shot rubber bullets at him, again.

That scene, on Avenue 28 with a police car supervising at about 5:30 pm, was played out all over this island nation on Monday as police attacked peaceful protesters, men, women and children, chasing them down, firing at them with rubber bullets and overwhelming them with tear gas. At times the tear gas was so heavy, and fired with such abandon, that the police also succumbed, dropping to the ground to vomit.

This small nation in the Persian Gulf, with only about 1 million residents, half of them foreign workers, has long been among the most politically volatile in the region. The principal tension is between the royal family under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and ruling elites, who are mostly Sunnis, and the approximately 70 percent of the local population that is Shi’ite. Occupying mostly rundown villages with cinder block buildings and little else, many Shi’ites charge systemic discrimination in employment, housing, education and governance.

It appeared that all of the protests on Monday were in Shi’ite communities, with demands that were both economic and political. Young people said they mostly wanted jobs and a chance at a better life. But protesters young and old called for a new constitution and democratic changes to allow for a more effective representative parliament and government. The king has been promising to open up the political system for a decade, but the progress has been slow.

“We want real reforms, a real parliament elected by the people with real legislative power,” said Maryam al-Khawaja, 23, with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “We want a constitution written by the people.”

Khalifa and government officials had said that peaceful protests would be tolerated in what organizers had called Bahrain’s “Day of Rage,” modeled on the protests in Egypt last month. But they were not. From early in the morning until well past sundown, police attacked without warning any group that dared gather in the street.

Organizers had hoped to join in one large demonstration at a central traffic circle beneath a mammoth statue of a pearl.

But they never had the chance.

“They’re shooting at us like we were some sort of terrorists,” said Sharifeh al-Gharbil, 30, one of about 20 Shiite women and a scattering of men who gathered at the Duraz traffic circle. “But we’re Bahrainis. We’re not Sunni, we’re not Westerners, we’re not Jordanian, so we’re nothing. I have no job, I have no hope and my family is hungry.”

Complete articles via New York Times and Reuters

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