2/18/2012

Bahrain protesters and police clash



Bahraini police pushed back hundreds of protesters who again tried to march to the site of last year’s pro-democracy demonstrations.
Riot police on Friday used water cannons and volleys of tear gas – leaving a thick cloud of noxious fumes that caused even policemen to have coughing fits as they dispersed the hundreds of mourners shouting slogans against King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa and hurling Molotov cocktails and rocks.
 
The latest bid to return to the site of the now-destroyed Pearl roundabout came after the funeral of a man who had died from wounds sustained from burning tyres a few weeks ago.
Activists say Hussain al-Bagali, 19, had initially refused to go to hospital for fear of arrest, but later was admitted as his health worsened.
The minority Sunni-led government has managed to cordon off dissent within villages populated by the majority Shia population, moving quickly to disperse any demonstrations.
Two female activists, one from the US and another from the UK, were arrested earlier on Friday as they joined a protest of about 100 women who tried to chant slogans near Bahrain’s main highway.
Police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd of black-clad women, who faced off against a line of riot police. A Bahraini woman collapsed after police used pepper spray, and was arrested.
Other international activists have been detained and deported for taking part in protests to mark the anniversary of the February 14 uprising.
As the government seeks to signal that normality is returning to Bahrain in the run-up to the scheduled Formula 1 Grand Prix in April, the chaotic scenes in Shia villages show that stability remains a distant prospect in the Gulf kingdom.
The government has initiated informal contacts with the opposition to look into the potential for launching a real dialogue aimed at meeting some of the protesters’ demands.
The royal court this weekend approached three liberal groups, including the secularist Waad society, which are allied with the main Shia opposition party al-Wefaq, according to one opposition official. Al-Wefaq last week received a separate approach.
The site of the Pearl roundabout remains a military zone, the target of continuous attempts by protesters seeking the constitutional and political reforms demanded during a month of rallies in February and March 2011, before a Saudi-backed security clampdown.
Activists say about 60 people have died since last February, amid excessive use of force and torture. An independent commission ordered by the king to conduct an inquiry published a report in November where it noted systematic abuse of pro-democracy protesters.
The government says it is reforming judicial procedures and security forces to comply with recommendations made by the commission.
But activists say the security forces’ continued use of excessive force, including beatings, renewed arrests and widespread use of tear gas, undermines claims of real reform.