Bahrain police disperse web-organised protests

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Bahraini protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by police
© AFP

Protestors run for cover after police fired tear gas canisters to disperse them
© AFP

MANAMA (AFP) – Bahraini police used tear gas on Monday to disperse hundreds of protesters in several villages of the restive Shiite Muslim majority in clashes that wounded at least one person, the interior ministry and witnesses said.

Security forces were deployed in force along the main routes into the capital Manama in an effort to prevent a gathering that had been arranged on the Internet, mirroring similar online initiatives around the Arab world.

“Unauthorised marches took place in several places,” the interior ministry said on micro-blogging site Twitter, adding that “police used tear gas to disperse them” after warning protesters that their actions were “illegal”.

Witnesses told AFP on Monday that demonstrations had taken place in a string of Shiite-majority villages, including Darraz and Sanabis, west of Manama, Sitra, east of the capital, and Jed Hafs just to the north, as well as the historic Balad Al-Qadim quarter in the city centre.

Turnout at the rallies ranged between a few dozen and hundreds of people, the witnesses said.

“There were no arrests during the dispersal of the demonstrations, which were interspersed with clashes with security forces,” who “injured one person in Jed Hafs,” a police source told AFP.

The demonstrations began early Monday morning in Nouidrat, a village east of Manama, where dozens of protesters were dispersed by security forces who fired tear gas, according to another police source who did not report any arrests.

A second man was wounded in Nouidrat, the interior ministry said, adding that “he was hospitalised and his condition is stable.”

In Karkazan, a Shiite village south of Manama, three policemen and a protester were injured during attempts to disperse hundreds of demonstrators taking part in an “unauthorised demonstration” on Sunday, the interior ministry said.

In a statement posted on its page on social networking site, Twitter, the ministry said that security forces “fired rubber bullets” to disperse the Karkazan demonstration.

The Facebook page which called for the February 14 uprising, inspired by the protests which ousted the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, had amassed more than 15,000 “likes” by Monday.

A message posted on the page read: “This is your chance to open the way for political and social reforms, in line with changes taking place in the Middle East. On February 14, we will chant together: ‘The people want reform of the regime.'”

As in other Arab countries, tech-savvy Bahrainis are using the Internet to demand that the government create jobs for unemployed young people and increase wages.

Bahraini protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by police
© AFP

Shiite-majority Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa family of King Hamad, which retains a tight grip on the premiership and key ministries.

In the 1990s, it was plagued by a wave of Shiite-led unrest that has abated since 2001 reforms restored the Gulf state’s parliament.

But the Shiite opposition remains aggrieved that the elected house’s legislative powers are shared with an appointed upper house and also accuses the authorities of seeking to change the archipelago’s demographic make-up by naturalising Sunni immigrants.