Arrests in Bahrain as Shiites protest

AFP , Wednesday 25 Jan 2012

Bahraini police uses force to disperse a peaceful protest by opposition groups, making several arrests in Shiite villages

Bahraini police dispersed anti-government protesters who blocked roads in several villages, an official statement said on Wednesday, as tensions in the Shiite-majority Gulf kingdom continue to rise.

Public Security Chief Major General Tariq al-Hassan said "vandals blocked roads" and threw petrol bombs during Tuesday night clashes, according to a statement published on the official BNA news agency website.

Hassan said security forces made "several arrests" in Shiite villages, but gave no further details on the exact location of the clashes or if there were any injuries.

Former opposition MP Matar Matar told AFP that protesters clashed with security forces in at least four Shiite villages, leaving several people injured, including one who remains in serious condition after being hit on the head with a tear gas canister.

"One young man is in hospital and is in critical condition," said Matar, who is also a member of the key Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq, noting another two protesters have been killed in recent months from similar tear gas injuries.

"This indicates the existence of a (government) policy to intentionally injure protesters rather than just merely disperse them," said Matar.

On December 31, Al-Wefaq said 15-year-old Sayyed Hashem Saeed died after being hit in the head by a tear gas canister.

The government at the time released a statement saying they would investigate the teenager's death.

According to Matar, Tuesday night's clashes erupted after posts on social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, called on Bahrainis to go out and "confront" the security forces.

Al-Wefaq has posted videos and pictures of the unrest on its Facebook page, including images of police officers in the Shiite villages of Sitra and Bani Jamra, dressed in full riot gear and hurling objects, including metal rods, at a small crowd of young men.

In another image posted on the page, plumes of tear gas can be seen wafting through the night skies over the Shiite town of Bani Jamra.

On Monday, the United States said it was relocating embassy staff and their families to new neighborhoods in Bahrain's capital Manama as part of safety precautions amid anti-government unrest.

A crackdown on Shiite-led protests in mid-March last year led to the deaths of 35 people, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death, a commission appointed by the king to investigate the unrest said.

Tensions have remained high in Bahrain since the initial crackdown last spring, and sporadic violence has risen in recent weeks as the first anniversary approaches of the launch of the protests against the government.

Bahrain's Shiite community, although a majority in the kingdom ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, has complained of marginalisation.

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