Follow Reuters Facebook Twitter RSS YouTube Recommended Video American F-16 fighter jet goes missing Play Video American F-16 fighter jet goes missing Vampire Woman turns heads at tattoo fest Play Video Vampire Woman turns heads at tattoo fest Iran shows new combat helicopter Play Video Iran shows new combat helicopter Should You Stay Late at the Office? Should You Stay Late at the Office? (Citi Blog) Expats in UAE Avoid ID Card Fines Expats in UAE Avoid ID Card Fines (nuqudy) American F-16 fighter jet goes missing Play Video Vampire Woman turns heads at tattoo fest Play Video Iran shows new combat helicopter Play Video Should You Stay Late at the Office? Expats in UAE Avoid ID Card Fines [?] Read Iran says Israel will regret Syria air strike 12:11pm GMT 1 FTSE 100 retreats, European concerns weigh 12:33pm GMT 2 King Richard III found after 500 years | Video 1:19pm GMT 3 Osborne sets out new law to break up errant banks | Video 1:30pm GMT 4 Gascoigne needs 24-hour care, says players’ union boss 11:55am GMT 5 Discussed 14 Political rivals in Britain unite to combat EU ”Brexit” threat 6 Could Scottish, Catalan independence votes reshape Europe? 4 UKIP leader sees exit in ”few years” Bahrain says civilian courts now dealing with most protest cases

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Sun Feb 26, 2012 6:16pm GMT

(Reuters) – Bahrain said on Sunday almost all the verdicts issued by military courts against people involved in a pro-democracy protest movement crushed by the Gulf Arab state last year were now being handled by civilian courts.

The statement, which also said 11 people jailed by military courts would be freed, appeared designed to show Bahrain had met the recommendations of legal experts commissioned by the country’s king after an international outcry.

Bahrain is under pressure to heed the international experts, who said in November systematic torture had been used to extract confessions used in military trials of hundreds of Bahrainis, mainly from the majority Shi’ite community.

The government, led by the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty, survived the month-long protest movement, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as strong U.S. censure. But Washington has linked continued sales of security hardware to recommended reforms in policing, the judiciary and elsewhere.

Sayed Hadi al-Musawi, a senior official in the largest opposition party Wefaq, said the government was not acting in good faith.

“I am receiving lots of calls come from families asking about these cases, but everything is being kept vague,” he said. “We don’t know what’s happening. If you want to say you are implementing recommendations, you need to be transparent.”

A statement on state news agency BNA said 135 of 165 verdicts issued by military courts were in the process of being appealed and handled by civilian courts.

It said charges were dropped concerning six people involved in the 30 remaining cases, while four others would not serve any more time of their sentencing and charges would be “excluded” regarding one other defendant.

It gave no names or other details concerning the cases.

Mohsen Al Alawi, a lawyer who represents one defendant involved in the 30 cases, said it was not clear how many of the 11 defendants were still in jail or had been freed.

He said the fate of charges in the rest of the 30 cases was not clear.

“It’s very opaque,” he said, adding that in his view all military court verdicts should have been shelved in line with the commission’s recommendations, rather than allowing the cases to continue in civilian courts.

Cases still pending after transfer to civilian courts include controversial trials of medics, teachers and 14 men jailed for leading the protests last year. One of those 14, rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who also has Danish nationality, has been on hunger strike for more than two weeks.

In December the public prosecutor dropped charges concerning freedom of speech and expression against 334 people, but any other charges against those defendants — who were not named — remained.

RECENT ARRESTS

Wefaq’s Musawi said at least 57 people were arrested this month around the time of the February 14 anniversary of the protests for trying or planning to return to the central traffic roundabout that formed the epicentre of the demonstrations and which is now closed and under heavy guard.

He said most of them had been released. Police had not given a figure for the number of those arrested. At least 120 people were wounded around February 14, including some by birdshot, an independent medic has said.

The country, caught up in a regional tussle for influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, remains in political stalemate with opposition parties holding protests for reforms and youths in Shi’ite areas clashing daily with police.

The violence has escalated in the past two months as youths hurl more petrol bombs and iron rods at riot police, while Wefaq says excessive force including heavy use of tear gas has caused 20 deaths since November.

The government disputes the causes of death and the attribution of some of them to the political violence. Security forces have not used live fire on protesters since the uprising.

Follow Reuters Facebook Twitter RSS YouTube Recommended Video Sweden finds Soviet submarine wreck in Baltic Sea Play Video Sweden finds Soviet submarine wreck in Baltic Sea Pakistan paramilitary soldier survives execution Play Video Pakistan paramilitary soldier survives execution Topless protest against Vatican’s anti-gay stance Play Video Topless protest against Vatican’s anti-gay stance Simi Valley police association concerned about labor transparency Simi Valley police association concerned about labor… (Onward Voice) Jewish Riots Erupt Following Netanyahu Cartoon Jewish Riots Erupt Following Netanyahu Cartoon (Tablet Magazine) Sweden finds Soviet submarine wreck in Baltic Sea Play Video Pakistan paramilitary soldier survives execution Play Video Topless protest against Vatican’s anti-gay stance Play Video Simi Valley police association concerned about labor transparency Jewish Riots Erupt Following Netanyahu Cartoon [?] Read Iran says Israel will regret Syria air strike 12:11pm GMT 1 FTSE 100 retreats, European concerns weigh 12:33pm GMT 2 UK sets out new law to break up errant banks | Video 12:40pm GMT 3 King Richard III found after 500 years | Video 1:19pm GMT 4 Gascoigne needs 24-hour care, says players’ union boss 11:55am GMT 5 Discussed 14 Political rivals in Britain unite to combat EU ”Brexit” threat 6 Could Scottish, Catalan independence votes reshape Europe? 4 UKIP leader sees exit in ”few years” Bahrain Sunnis warn government over dialogue at rally

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:26pm GMT

(Reuters) – Sunni Muslims warned the Bahraini government at a rally against entering a dialogue with Shi’ite-led opposition parties, as pressure mounts for the Sunni-led Gulf Arab state to end unrest now entering its second year.

The tourism and banking hub, dominated by the Sunni Al Khalifa family, has been in turmoil since a protest movement for democratic reforms erupted on February 14 last year and was put down one month later with a period of martial law.

“How can there be a dialogue at this time? The majority of citizens ask, is this the time for dialogue and a political solution? Security is the priority!” said Khalid Bloashi, reading a statement from a Sunni youth group that organised the rally of about 20,000 people in central Manama late on Tuesday.

“The priority is deterring vandalism that aims to blackmail the nation for foreign agendas… We will never accept backroom dialogue, so for how long will the state ignore us?”

The warnings over dialogue come after it emerged last week that royal court minister Khaled bin Ahmed last month met figures from Wefaq, a Shi’ite Islamist party which won almost half of parliament seats in past elections, as well as three secular opposition parties on a separate occasion.

The crowd, carrying a sea of Bahraini flags peppered with the green flag of government ally Saudi Arabia and a few others, chanted back: “No dialogue! No dialogue!”

Recent months have seen an escalation in clashes between riot police and Shi’ite protesters. Shi’ites are thought to be a majority on the island and complain of political and economic marginalisation. The government denies this.

Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and iron bars. Activists say that while police have not used live fire, an official death toll of 35 last June has risen to over 60 as a result of heavy-handed use of tear gas, stun grenades and speeding police cars. Two people died in police custody last month.

The government disputes the causes of death and says it is investigating all cases.

Many Sunnis and other loyalists, who dominate state media, accuse Wefaq of exploiting the violence to force concessions. Police often license rallies and marches by Wefaq.

IN A RUT

Bahrain remains in a rut as protests continue. Some ratings agencies have downgraded banks, many office blocks stand half empty and weekend Saudi tourism is a shadow of what it was.

The British ambassador said this week Bahrain would have difficulty attracting foreign investment if it did not make economic and political reforms to help restore confidence.

Bahrain is a key Western ally and host to the U.S. Fifth Fleet. Washington supported the government during last year’s protests, during which some called for setting up a republic, and Saudi Arabia sent troops to boost defences as fear gripped some of an Iranian intervention.

The statement read by Bloashi addressed the U.S. ambassador in Manama. Columnists often attack the United States for urging the government publicly to enter talks with Wefaq.

“Let the American ambassador listen: Bahrain is not a tool of America… We will not be a bargaining chip or a testing ground,” he said, also calling for tolerance and coexistence in Bahrain and attacking government corruption.

The crowd carried banners such as “USA, will you stop playing with our national security?” and chanted “The people want to bring down Wefaq,” a variation on the Arab Spring slogan “The people want to bring down the regime.”

King Hamad bin Isa thanked the participants in a statement for affirming that the island should remain “an oasis of peace and security for those of all religions living there, without interference in its affairs,” state news agency BNA said.

Tuesday’s rally at the Fateh mosque was held to mark the first anniversary of a meeting at the same place where Sunnis had aired their fears that the protest movement, then a week old, had a Shi’ite sectarian agenda.

Bahrain police disperse march with water cannon

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Mon Feb 20, 2012 2:02pm EST

(Reuters) – Bahraini police used water cannon and tear gas to break up a march chanting anti-government slogans after a funeral Monday, while protesters were arrested for approaching a roundabout at the center of an uprising last year.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since protests erupted on February 14 last year, inspired by demonstrations sweeping the Arab world.

Police spray water at anti-government protesters in the village of Jidhafs, west of Manama, February 20, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

The country has a Shi’ite Muslim majority, but is ruled by a Sunni ruling family. The government imposed martial law last year and crushed demonstrations after inviting troops from other Gulf states, led by Sunni power Saudi Arabia, to help restore order.

The anniversary of last year’s protests has seen an increase in demonstrations, mainly by Shi’ites who say they seek more democracy. The past week has seen police use water cannon to disperse protests for the first time in 11 months.

Monday’s clash took place in Jidhafs, an area just outside the capital Manama, after the funeral of Hussein al-Baqali, 19, whose family says he died this week from burns sustained last month during a tire-burning at anti-government protests.

His family says he was unable to go to state hospitals for fear of arrest. The Interior Ministry said he set himself alight with intent to commit suicide.

“After the burial of Hussain al-Baqali in Jidhafs, groups of vandals rioted. Police legally dispersed them,” the Interior Ministry said in its Twitter feed.

Police moved in on a group of over 500 people who marched down to a traffic junction inside the town, using two water cannon lorries backed up by helicopters and dozens of riot police in armored vehicles and on foot firing tear gas.

OPPOSITION TRIES TO RECLAIM ROUNDABOUT

The ministry also said “vandals” were later arrested for trying to block traffic on the highway near the former Pearl Roundabout, a traffic junction occupied by anti-government protesters for a month last year until the movement was crushed.

The junction’s pearl monument, once a national landmark, was razed after the protests last year. Opposition figures have said they wanted to mark the anniversary of the protests by re-occupying the area. There have been clashes in nearby Shi’ite villages all week.

Said Yousif Almuhafda, an opposition activist, said different groups totaling around 30 people had tried Monday to approach the roundabout, which is under heavy guard. Some were arrested after tear gas was fired.

He said that earlier Zainab Al-Khawaja, a prominent activist whose father is one of 14 opposition leaders in jail, had been released following her arrest when she approached the roundabout with a group of people last week.

Police say protesters are not permitted to block highways and point to permits granted to opposition parties for marches and rallies in areas that will not disrupt traffic. The opposition says it is the closure of the roundabout that is holding up traffic.

Shi’ites, who say they face political and economic marginalization, have dominated the protests seeking reforms to allow parliament to form governments and reduce the powers of the ruling family. The government has begun contact with opposition parties on a possible dialogue to end the crisis.

Bahrain bankers relieved, eye infrastructure projects

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Sun Feb 19, 2012 12:14pm EST

(Reuters) – Bahraini bankers expressed relief on Sunday that the February 14 anniversary of last year’s democracy uprising passed without major disruptions but said lenders needed to see more infrastructure projects in the Gulf bank and tourism hub.

“Thank God February 14 went fine to a great extent. There is hope that the political situation will be seen as stabilized to a great extent and agencies start increasing ratings,” Abdulkarim Bucheery, chief executive officer of Bank of Bahrain, said at a meeting with reporters.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since a protest movement erupted on February 14 last year and the government imposed over two months of martial law to crush it. Some ratings agencies downgraded Bahraini banks.

Anti-government activists had vowed to reoccupy a central roundabout in Manama on this week’s anniversary, but security forces kept tight guard on the traffic intersection, which has remained closed to the public.

There were clashes all week in Shi’ite districts outside the capital, where riot police deployed armored vehicles, water cannon and helicopters to prevent the revival of a movement driven by Shi’ites who say they face political and economic marginalization. The government denies this.

Bucheery said only four or five financial institutions left Bahrain last year and said the reasons were also linked to the global economic downturn. He said two Indian banks had applied for licenses to open branches in the island state.

He also said a government move to stop on-arrival visas for some Western nationalities would not affect banking.

A number of foreign activists entered Bahrain on tourist visas this month to express solidarity with protesters, who want democratic reforms that would give the elected parliament power to form governments. Twelve have been deported.

The protests against a government dominated by the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family dealt a body blow to the real estate sector and tourism. Many office blocks stand half empty and weekend Saudi tourism is a shadow of what it was before.

“The government still needs to push infrastructure projects. There is no liquidity problem on the bank side but the issue is scarcity of projects,” Bucheery said, adding the sector felt relief that the economy had not suffered greater damage.

Bankers welcomed the appointment of Kamal Ahmed last week to the transport ministry portfolio. Ahmed was previously chief operating officer at the Economic Development Board and is seen by many as the kind of technocrat needed in government.

Ahmed’s ministry is expected to supervise a Saudi Bahrain rail project which will be funded by the two governments and private investors, as well as restructuring of Bahrain’s aviation sector, including carrier Gulf Air.

“Kamal Ahmed comes from a business background and I think the focus for Bahrain is building the railway to Saudi Arabia. Having a minister for transportation is the right thing to do for the economy and the country,” Ali Moosa, managing director of JP Morgan in Manama, told Reuters.

Bahrain police, protesters clash, Western activists held

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Sat Feb 18, 2012 5:09am IST

(Reuters) – Bahraini police detained two Western activists who led a women’s protest on Friday and deployed water cannon and armoured vehicles to crush a separate demonstration of around 500 people from the majority Shi’ite population following a funeral.

The Gulf Arab state has imposed a security clampdown this week in a bid to avert mass protests on the anniversary of the February 14 pro-democracy uprising last year and prevent Shi’ites from reaching the Pearl Roundabout, a junction in capital Manama that became the focal point of protests.

British activist Elaine (L) and U.S. activist Medea Benjamin (in pink) form victory signs with their fingers along with Bahraini anti-government protesters as they march to Al Farook Junction, formerly known as Pearl Square, in Budaiya, west of Manama February 17, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed Continue reading Bahrain police, protesters clash, Western activists held

Bahrain police, protesters clash, Western activists held

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA, Feb 17 (Reuters) – Bahraini police detained two Western activists who led a women’s protest on Friday and deployed water cannon and armoured vehicles to crush a separate demonstration of around 500 people from the majority Shi’ite population following a funeral.

The Gulf Arab state has imposed a security clampdown this week in a bid to avert mass protests on the anniversary of the Feb. 14 pro-democracy uprising last year and prevent Shi’ites from reaching the Pearl Roundabout, a junction in capital Manama that became the focal point of protests.

But activists continued to stage protests in a cat-and-mouse game with police to press their demand for democratic reforms that would give Bahrain’s elected parliament power to form governments. Shi’ites complain of political and economic marginalisation by the Sunni ruling Al Khalifa family, an accusation the government denies.

On Friday a group of about 150 women, led by two foreign activists, staged a protest, facing off for several minutes with lines of riot police that included a small women force. One of the protest leaders wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “unarmed civilian”, another potester shouted: “Sunnis, Shia – brothers”.

Riot police told them to break up the protest, then threw a round of stun grenades and teargas. One woman was dragged away by women riot police after she was pepper sprayed.

“These women are protesting peacefully,” Medea Benjamin, an American with an observer group called Witness Bahrain, shouted as she was being dragged away. The other woman who was detained gave her name as Elaine Murthagh, an independent Irish-British activist.

At least 10 foreign activists have been deported this week.

 

WATER CANNON AFTER FUNERAL

Later Friday, hundreds of riot police and security forces used armoured vehicles, water cannon, teargas and stun grenades to disperse a march of more than 500 people in the Shi’ite district of Jidhafs. They were chanting against the government.

The march followed the funeral of Hussein al-Baqali, a 19-year-old who died this week from burn wounds sustained last month during tyre-burning by Shi’ites during an air show that Bahrain’s government saw as a showcase event.

His family say he was unable to go to state hospitals for fear of arrest.

Sheikh Isa Qassim, seen as the most influential Shi’ite cleric in Bahrain, said in a sermon the protest movement would not give up.

“The government’s methods will not affect the people’s push to get their rights,” he said on Friday, citing an attempt to clear the roundabout by security forces in February last year that killed four people.

“You have the machinery of destruction, but you cannot silence the voice of the people.”

Qassim is close to the biggest opposition party Wefaq, which has begun contacts with a senior official in the Al Khalifa family on a possible political resolution to a crisis that has paralysed the tourism and banking hub’s economy.

 

ESCALATING VIOLENCE

The violence has escalated in the last two months, with a marked rise in the use of petrol bombs against police while the number of dead, many from the effects of teargas, has risen to around 66, from 35 in June.

Police use of teargas to handle street protesters has been controversial because activists say it is used indiscriminately and the cannisters are sometimes fired directly.

On Thursday police said an improvised explosive device (IED) containing nails had been thrown at them in Sar, while in the nearby village of Bani Jamra, site of another protest, police said they had defused another IED.

Two policemen were seriously injured in a petrol bomb attack in the flashpoint town on Sitra on Wednesday.

A medic said at least 120 protesters had been wounded this week. Medics and protesters say police are using birdshot, which the police deny.

This week was the first time since a period of martial law last year that police use armoured vehicles and water cannon.

The Interior Ministry has hired two “supercops” from the United States and Britain to help improve policing after a commission of international legal experts set up to investigate last year’s uprising revealed systematic torture and deaths in police custody during emergency law.

John Timoney, former chief of police in Miami, told Reuters last week that water cannon could be of some use but only in certain areas. He said teargas was preferred as the least harmful method of breaking up what police view as aimless riots.

Activists accuse the government of using excessive force.

Sayed Ibrahim, 30, said he was beaten by police after they took him inside a jeep following clashes this week in Barbar. He said they broke his arm and hand, which were both bandaged, and subjected him to sexual harassment.

“When I got in the car one of them put his hand inside my trousers,” he said. “They pulled my arm back and asked if it was broken yet. They put my hand outside, then banged the door on it a few times, then hit my head with teargas cannisters.”

Over 120 hurt in Bahrain clashes, dialogue sought

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:07pm EST

(Reuters) – More than 120 protesters have been wounded in clashes with police in Bahrain this week, activists said on Wednesday, in a crackdown to stop majority Shi’ites breaking out of their neighborhoods to stage protests one year after an uprising.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the clashes, while a senior opposition figure said the government had put out feelers on talks to resolve the crisis in the Gulf Arab state.

Police conducted operations into the night in the flashpoint town of Sitra, seizing 15 teenagers in a raid on one building after a police vehicle was damaged by a petrol bomb earlier, residents said.

The streets were deserted with residents staying indoors as dozens of jeeps sped through the streets in apparent search operations. A policeman inside one vehicle fired a tear gas canister over some buildings before hurtling round a corner.

Opposition activists reported similar operations in numerous other Shi’ite areas of the island including Budaiya as well as Musalla and Sanabis which are on the edge of the capital.

Riot police also used armored personnel carriers that have not been seen on Bahrain’s streets since martial law last year.

“The heightened security presence at this time aims to spread security and reassure all citizens and residents… Expressing opinion must be within the space allowed by the law,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said in comments on the ministry’s website.

It gave no information on the number of arrests this week.

A U.N. statement said Ban Ki-moon expected Bahrain “to act in accordance with international human rights obligations.”

“The Secretary-General is concerned about reports of clashes in Bahrain between security forces and demonstrators over the past few days,” the statement said.

A medic who works with researchers of an international organization and asked not to be identified said the numbers of wounded in clashes this week was the highest in months.

“There were over 100 cases on Tuesday and 37 of them are bad, with head injuries and fractures,” he said. “On Monday we had 20 people (wounded) in villages around the country.”

The medic said some casualties had been hit by birdshot, controversial ammunition that Bahraini police deny using.

Most of the wounded were treated in village homes or private health clinics because protesters from the Shi’ite majority fear they will be arrested if they go to hospitals run by the government, which is appointed by the Sunni monarchy.

The protests began as a spontaneous movement embracing both Shi’ites and Sunnis, cutting across religious and class divides with demands for broad political, social and economic reform.

But they descended into sectarian violence as backroom talks on democratic reforms went nowhere, and hardliners in government and the opposition seized the initiative.

Government forces backed by Saudi troops crushed the month-long revolt last year. By June, when a state of emergency was lifted, 35 people had been killed.

U.S. FLEET

The island tourism and banking hub, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and is aligned with the United States and oil producer Saudi Arabia in their disputes with Iran over its nuclear program, has been in turmoil ever since.

Shi’ites clash regularly with police, while the opposition and government accused each other of rejecting dialogue.

However, Abduljalil Khalil, who heads the parliamentary caucus of the Shi’ite Wefaq party, the largest opposition faction, said three senior Wefaq figures met two weeks ago with Royal Court Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed, a powerful figure in the ruling Al-Khalifa family, at the government’s request.

Khalil said they presented the key demand of the opposition, outlined in a statement in October known as the Manama Document, for a referendum on moving towards full parliamentary democracy.

Such a move to curb the extensive powers of the ruling dynasty would be a first in the Gulf.

“He asked if we are ready for dialogue, and we said ‘yes’, but a serious and constructive one,” Khalil said.

“We presented our views on how to get out of this mess. He said they’ll get back to us … Now we are at the first anniversary of February 14, and security action has not worked. They realize they need to have a political solution.”

Asked if the opposition, which includes Shi’ite Islamists as well as Sunni and Shi’ite secularists, would agree to parties close to the government taking part, Khalil said they agreed that the government should hold separate discussions with them.

Highlighting opposition divisions, some activists criticized Wefaq for talking to a man they view as the architect of a policy of boosting Sunni population numbers by settling Pakistanis and some Arabs, a charge the government denies.

Nabeel Rajab, a prominent rights figure who has led some street protests, called the minister the “engineer of ethnic cleansing.” “This destroys any process of dialogue before it starts and shows lack of seriousness.”

“How can we trust our opposition if they meet with such people? They sit with them while telling us something else,” another activist, Sayed, told Reuters. “This is why the February 14 Coalition has become so popular.”

CALL FOR RESTRAINT

Wefaq leader Sheikh Ali Salman, who confirmed the contacts at a news conference, called on protesting youths this week to avoid being dragged into violent confrontations with police.

A protester called Ahmed, 20, said he had been struck by birdshot on Tuesday during clashes with police in one of several Shi’ite districts that ring Pearl Roundabout, the hub of last year’s unrest, now home to a National Guard camp and sealed off with barbed wire.

“I threw a rock and then one of them (police) stood and shot straight at me. One of the pellets just missed my head,” he said, sitting on a mattress on the ground in visible pain.

A male nurse who helps treat activists said he had removed all but one of the pellets, pinching the skin around one wound to demonstrate that the projectile was still inside.

An Interior Ministry statement said on Tuesday rioters had been responsible for chaos and vandalism in several villages but gave no information on how many had been wounded or detained.

Spokesman Ahmed Almannai said that those who believed they had been hit by birdshot should approach the authorities to verify the nature of their injuries.

After international pressure, a commission of foreign legal experts investigated last year’s unrest and revealed systematic torture and deaths in police custody during that period.

Violence has intensified since the commission’s report in November and the overall death toll is now around 66.

Six U.S. activists who came to observe how police handled Tuesday’s anniversary protests were detained and deported.

“From early morning on February 14, it was clear that the government had called out all its forces to stop any protests. It was like a state of siege,” they said in a report.

A number of senior U.S. and British officials have been in Manama in the past week, including U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner who called for more effort to heal Bahrain’s rifts.

One year on, Bahrain riven by political, sectarian conflict

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:28pm GMT

(Reuters) – One year after Bahrainis, inspired by uprisings in fellow Arab countries, occupied a central public space in Manama their demands for political reform remain unmet, the economy has drawn almost to a halt and sectarian suspicion tears at the fabric of a small island with big strategic punch.

The protests began as a spontaneous movement embracing people from both the majority Shi’ite community as well as Sunnis, cutting across religious and class divides, with demands for broad political, social and economic reform.

A man is seen walking in front of barbed wires as the National Guard is seen behind it on full alert during a protest that attempted to march back to Al Farook Junction, formally known as Pearl Square, in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, February 14, 2012. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

But it descended into sectarian violence as backroom talks on democratic reforms that would have transformed Bahrain into the first real democracy in the Gulf went nowhere and hardliners in government and the opposition seized the initiative.

One year on, the dividing lines have hardly changed — after having been moulded in the ferment of four weeks of revolutionary tumult on a level Bahrain had not known before.

The government hopes the protest movement, between opposition party rallies and youths clashing with police, will lose steam and international attention will fade.

But the fervour on the ground suggests that activists are set on keeping the country in a state of semi-crisis for however long it takes before meaningful dialogue begins.

“With February 14 there was a political awakening. Everyone in Bahrain became politicised, but since March they have been very entrenched in their positions,” said Omar AlShehabi, director of the Gulf Centre for Development Policies in Kuwait.

“But it’s very turbulent, and with such a politicisation there are bound to be big shifts in the coming years.”

The government has refused to budge on opposition demands to give the elected chamber of parliament the power to form cabinets or remove the prime minister of 41 years, a pillar of the ruling elite seen as resistant to swift change.

It offered the leading Shi’ite party Wefaq only token seats in a national dialogue and did not contact it directly to join a committee formed to look into improving human rights after an international commission set up under international pressure revealed systematic torture metered out under martial law.

Wefaq, which has commanded nearly half the electorate in past parliamentary votes, saw the offers as insults intended to belittle or even delegitimize it.

“The opposition are fighting a gigantic state with so much money, but people won’t give up and are ready to sacrifice,” said Farida Ismail, a senior figure in the secular Waad party.

“We want to say ‘be a fair ruling family’ – enough with corruption, enough with dictatorship.”

SECTARIAN DIVIDE

As a sign of the sectarian wounds that remain, graffiti has been daubed on a wall outside Waad headquarters in a Sunni district of Manama saying: “Down with Iran.”

The accusation that the opposition are beholden to Iran as protector of Shi’ites has been a feature of Bahraini politics for many years but has risen to new heights since the uprising raised the spectre of Shi’ite empowerment.

Sunnis who gathered at a Sunni mosque in Manama last Saturday talked of their fear that free elections to form governments would mean clerical rule by default since many opposition leaders are Shi’ite clerics and they would seek advice from clerics in other places where Shi’ism is strong.

“We don’t want a copy of Iran or Iraq here,” said Nader Mohammed, a banker. “They are manipulated by a single religious individual. Elected government is fair enough but taking orders is not accepted.”

Wefaq sees such talk as Shiaphobia and has tried to assuage the concerns. Its leader Sheikh Ali Salman asked followers at a rally last week to avoid sectarian and party flags and only carry the national one during this period of protests.

But religion remains a deep source of inspiration for ordinary Shi’ites who feel shut out of their country’s political and economic life, which is dominated by the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty and allied Sunni and Shi’ite families.

The ritual of opposition rallies is steeped in the Islamic traditions of Bahrain’s Shi’ite communities, from praying to the Prophet Mohammed as well as his family, to selling trinkets bearing the name of Shi’ite Imams such as Ali and Hussein.

MOLOTOVS VS. TEARGAS

Divergent views on policing is one stark example of the failure of government and opposition to see eye-to-eye.

After live fire killed protesters last February, helping ignite the revolutionary movement further, the interior ministry has stuck to tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

It has also hired U.S. and British police chiefs to help reform its conduct after the revelations of torture and deaths in custody of Sh’ite detainees last year.

One of them, former Miami police chief John Timoney, told Reuters this week the ministry was serious about reform and would hire Shi’ites in a new recruitment and training drive, but he said youth violence in villages was posing obstacles.

Yet opposition parties and youths say police are brutalising their communities with massive use of teargas and beatings that now take place outside police stations to avoid detection.

Since the end of martial law in June, the death toll in Bahrain’s unrest has risen from 35 to over 60, activists say.

Timoney even argued that teargas use was down. “Police are responding to the assaults they find themselves in,” he said. “There has been a huge increase in use of Molotov cocktails.”

The former Miami police chief, who used heavy tactics to quell anti-globalisation protesters in 2003, also denied a political motive to the nightly clashes between youths and police.

ECONOMY SUFFERING

The violence is taking a toll on Bahrain’s economy.

Economic conditions have improved considerably since the first quarter of 2011, when gross domestic product shrank 1.3 percent because of street violence that temporarily closed businesses and prompted the evacuation of foreigners. GDP grew 2.2 percent quarter-on-quarter between July and September.

The Bahrain Air Show last month, the first big international event since the unrest, was marred by protesters who burned enough tyres to fill the skies visibly with smoke over a large area. It is not clear if Bahrain will still manage to host the Formula One motor racing championship in April.

Once a buzzing tourism and banking hub, Manama is not the party town it used to be. The number of weekend visitors from Saudi Arabia is visibly down and many hotels and bars are empty.

Ahmed Abdullah, who attended the loyalist rally on Saturday, said his property business was ruined. “I own a building with four flats – they’ve been empty for 12 months,” he said, citing areas where many people were flocking to to escape the stones, tear gas and traffic snarls of frontline neighbourhoods.

One bright light on the horizon is increased talk of initiatives to bring the two sides together, plus the return to Bahrain of Cherif Bassiouni, whose rights report in November presented a schema of what went wrong last year and parameters for fixing it that most parties grudgingly accept.

A group of young people organised the first Bahrain Debate this month, where opposing voices engaged in calm discussion.

“We’re highly supportive of any effort to bring temperature down,” a Western diplomat said.

Bahrain forces patrol capital on revolt anniversary

By Andrew Hammond

MANAMA | Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:57pm EST

(Reuters) – Armored vehicles patrolled Bahrain’s capital on Tuesday in a security clampdown to deter protesters after overnight clashes outside Manama on the first anniversary of a forcibly suppressed pro-democracy uprising.

Youths threw petrol bombs at police cars during skirmishes before dawn, prompting authorities to flood Shi’ite villages around Manama with police reinforcements backed by helicopters.

Police fired tear gas at two dozen protesters near the former Pearl Roundabout, focal point of last year’s protests, nearly hitting several people as canisters bounced off cars.

An anti-government protester stands in front of riot police marching towards him during a protest that attempted to march back to Al Farook Junction, formally known as Pearl Square, in the village of Sanabis, west of Manama, February 14, 2012. REUTERS-Hamad I Mohammed

“They fired straight at us, they weren’t even shooting in the air,” said one protester after a passing driver hauled him into his car.

Other groups that appeared later were also doused with tear gas and about 30 people in total were arrested, some of them dragged from their cars on apparent suspicion of being protesters aiming to clog up the highway near the roundabout.

Prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who led the protesters, was detained, as were six American activists in the country as part of a Witness Bahrain group to monitor how police handle demonstrators.

The government said in a statement it would deport them. Two

others in the group were deported on Sunday after the government said they had entered Bahrain on tourist visas.

“People coming to visit Bahrain need to understand that lying on immigration documents is against the law and they will face the consequences of their actions,” an immigration department official was quoted as saying.

The re-emergence of armored personnel carriers for the first time since martial law was lifted in June underlined the concerns of the Sunni Muslim-led monarchy about a new explosion of civil unrest by Bahrain’s disgruntled Shi’ite majority.

Shi’ite protests have intensified before the anniversary of the uprising, when mainly Shi’ite protesters occupied Pearl Roundabout for a month before security forces aided by Saudi troops broke up the movement that was inspired by revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world.

A medic working with an international organization who declined to be named said over 100 people were hurt in clashes in Shi’ite villages around the country, as security forces pinned potential protesters in their districts.

He said that of those, 37 were serious injuries.

At least 35 people, including security personnel, died during the protests last year. Security forces have not used live fire since that time.

An interior ministry statement said rioters caused chaos and vandalism in a number of villages, holding up traffic, but gave no information on numbers of injured or arrested.

COMPLEX CHALLENGE

The growing anger among Shi’ites, who complain that they are

treated as second-class citizens, shut out of many state jobs and given limited access to good housing, is a complicated challenge for a Sunni ruling family in power for over 200 years.

Bahrain escaped severe international censure for crushing last year’s revolt. The Gulf island monarchy is a Western ally, hosting the U.S. Fifth Fleet to counter Shi’ite Iran across the Gulf. Yet the United States suspended a $53 million arms deal until it sees “more progress” by the government on reforms.

The closely guarded roundabout, with a now-demolished giant concrete edifice featuring a pearl, was renamed al-Farouq Junction, but is still closed to traffic. Security was beefed up in recent days as opposition activists sought to reclaim the symbolically rich space.

On the eve of the anniversary, hundreds of protesters broke away from an authorized opposition party rally to march down the main highway into Manama, heading for the roundabout, before police stopped them with tear gas and rubber bullet pellets.

Street battles ensued with youths throwing petrol bombs, rocks and iron bars. They chanted in favour of Hassan Mushaimaa, a jailed Shi’ite leader who called for a republic last year.

The junction remains enclosed by barbed wire on most sides and security guards have set up an encampment nearby.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in a televised speech on Monday, told Bahrainis he remained committed to reforms launched a decade ago, a process the opposition dismisses as cosmetic.

DISGRUNTLED YOUTH

Young men justified this week’s disturbances by saying they were in constant conflict with police who treat them harshly. “This is just one way of expressing our protest,” said one, who declined to give his name out of concern for his safety.

He said they were ignoring calls by Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the leading Shi’ite opposition party Wefaq, not to throw petrol bombs. Analysts say Wefaq, which supports the monarchy, fears losing support to more radical figures such as Mushaimaa.

“We respect the opposition but everyone has to choose their own path. Ali Salman doesn’t really know the situation we live in,” the young dissident said.

February 14 is not only the anniversary of the uprising but also of a 2001 referendum on a national reform charter King Hamad introduced to end a revolt that sputtered through the 1990s.

Opposition parties say the constitution promulgated a year later was a disappointment because it neutralized the powers of an elected assembly with an upper house of royal appointees.

Wefaq and other opposition parties, including the secular Waad led by jailed Sunni politician Ibrahim Sharif, want constitutional changes that would give the elected chamber of parliament the authority to form governments.

After last year’s unrest, the government granted parliament extra powers of scrutiny over ministers and budgets, but has not budged on the more far-reaching opposition demands.

Bahraini authorities have hired U.S. and British police chiefs to help reform policing after revelations about torture and deaths of detainees during last year’s crackdown.

Opposition parties and youths say they have noticed no improvement in police behavior and accuse police of using harsh tactics for political reasons: to suppress dissent in Shi’ite villages that could produce a critical mass of protesters again.

Despite the government’s professed reform efforts, it has not been enough to convince U.S. lawmakers to unfreeze a planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain.

Bahrain says it needs the hardware, including armored Humvee vehicles and missiles, to defend itself from Iran, which it accuses of fomenting the revolt to turn Bahrain into an Islamic republic. Iran denies this.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that the United States would not go ahead with the deal until Bahrain made more headway in implementing reforms.

Bahrain forces patrol capital on revolt anniversary

MANAMA (Reuters) – Armoured vehicles patrolled Bahrain’s capital on Tuesday in a security clampdown to deter protesters after overnight clashes outside Manama on the first anniversary of a forcibly suppressed pro-democracy uprising.

Youths flung petrol bombs at police cars during skirmishes before dawn, prompting authorities to flood Shi’ite villages around Manama with police reinforcements backed by helicopters.

Police fired tear gas at two dozen protesters near the former Pearl Roundabout, focal point of last year’s protests, nearly hitting several people as canisters bounced off cars.

“They fired straight at us, they weren’t even shooting in the air,” said one protester as a passing driver hauled him into his car. Other groups that appeared later were also doused with tear gas and about 30 people in total were detained and taken away.

Prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who led the protesters, was detained, as were six American activists in the country as part of a Witness Bahrain group to monitor how police handle demonstrators.

The government said in a statement it would deport them. Two

others in the group were deported on Sunday after the government said they had entered Bahrain on tourist visas.

“People coming to visit Bahrain need to understand that lying on immigration documents is against the law and they will face the consequences of their actions,” an immigration department official was quoted as saying.

The re-emergence of armoured personnel carriers for the first time since martial law was lifted in June underlined the concerns of the Sunni Muslim-led monarchy about a new explosion of civil unrest by Bahrain’s disgruntled Shi’ite majority.

Shi’ite protests have intensified before the anniversary of the uprising, when mainly Shi’ite protesters occupied Pearl Roundabout for a month before security forces aided by Saudi troops broke up the movement that was inspired by revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab world.

No deaths or injuries were reported. At least 35 people, including security personnel, died during the protests last year.

COMPLEX CHALLENGE

The growing anger among Shi’ites, who complain that they are

treated as second-class citizens, shut out of many state jobs and given limited access to good housing, is a complicated challenge for a Sunni ruling family in power for over 200 years.

Bahrain escaped severe international censure for crushing last year’s revolt. The Gulf island monarchy is a Western ally, hosting the U.S. Fifth Fleet to counter Shi’ite Iran across the Gulf. Yet the United States suspended a $53 million (33.86 million pounds) arms deal until it sees “more progress” by the government on reforms.

The closely guarded roundabout, with a now-demolished giant concrete edifice featuring a pearl, was renamed al-Farouq Junction, but is still closed to traffic. Security was beefed up in recent days as opposition activists sought to reclaim the symbolically rich space.

On the eve of the anniversary, hundreds of protesters broke away from an authorised opposition party rally to march down the main highway into Manama, heading for the roundabout, before police stopped them with tear gas and rubber bullet pellets.

Street battles ensued with youths throwing petrol bombs, rocks and iron bars. They chanted in favour of Hassan Mushaimaa, a jailed Shi’ite leader who called for a republic last year.

The junction remains enclosed by barbed wire on most sides and security guards have set up an encampment nearby.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, in a televised speech on Monday, told Bahrainis he remained committed to reforms launched a decade ago, a process the opposition dismisses as cosmetic.

“(This) marked the launch of a development and modernization process, which is still moving forward to meet the aspirations of our loyal people in all areas,” said the king.

He said he had pardoned 291 prisoners, but they did not include those arrested during last year’s revolt. The opposition demand the release of 14 leading figures who were jailed by a military court for allegedly trying to stage a coup.

DISGRUNTLED YOUTH

Young men justified this week’s disturbances by saying they were in constant conflict with police who treat them harshly. “This is just one way of expressing our protest,” said one, who declined to give his name out of concern for his safety.

He said they were ignoring calls by Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the leading Shi’ite opposition party Wefaq, not to throw petrol bombs. Analysts say Wefaq, which supports the monarchy, fears losing support to more radical figures such as Mushaimaa.

“We respect the opposition but everyone has to choose their own path. Ali Salman doesn’t really know the situation we live in,” the young dissident said.

February 14 is not only the anniversary of the uprising but also of a 2001 referendum on a national reform charter King Hamad introduced to end a revolt that sputtered through the 1990s.

Opposition parties say the constitution promulgated a year later was a disappointment because it neutralised the powers of an elected assembly with an upper house of royal appointees.

Wefaq and other opposition parties, including the secular Waad led by jailed Sunni politician Ibrahim Sharif, want constitutional changes that would give the elected chamber of parliament the authority to form governments.

After last year’s unrest, the government granted parliament extra powers of scrutiny over ministers and budgets, but has not budged on the more far-reaching opposition demands.

Bahraini authorities have hired U.S. and British police chiefs to help reform policing after revelations about torture and deaths of detainees during last year’s crackdown.

One of them, former Miami police chief John Timoney, told Reuters this week the interior ministry was serious about reform and would hire Shi’ites in a new recruitment and training drive, but he said youth violence was posing obstacles.

Opposition parties and youths say they have noticed no improvement in police behaviour and accuse police of using harsh tactics for political reasons: to suppress dissent in Shi’ite villages that could produce a critical mass of protesters again.

ARMS DEAL IN BALANCE

Despite the government’s professed reform efforts, it has not been enough to convince U.S. lawmakers to unfreeze a planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain.

Bahrain says it needs the hardware, including armoured Humvee vehicles and missiles, to defend itself from non-Arab Shi’ite giant Iran, which it accuses of fomenting the revolt to turn Bahrain into an Islamic republic. Iran denies this.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that the United States would not go ahead with the deal until Bahrain made more headway in implementing reforms.

She called for more progress, including reinstatement of Bahraini workers unfairly dismissed from their jobs and resolution of court cases related to political expression.

“More remains to be done on that. Assistance is still on pause … We’re not going to go forward until we see more progress,” Nuland told reporters.

The State Department last month authorised the despatch of $1 million of equipment to Bahrain to support U.S. operations in the region, including the Fifth Fleet.