Minor clashes as Bahrain "Day of Rage" begins

Reuters , Monday 14 Feb 2011

Bahrain's activists start their "Day of Rage" protests by small scale clashes with the security

Small-scale clashes erupted in two Bahraini villages as security forces tightened their grip on Shiite communities for Monday's "Day of Rage" protests inspired by upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia.

Helicopters circled over the capital Manama, where protesters were expected to gather in the afternoon, and police cars stepped up their presence in Shiite villages, breaking up one protest with teargas and rubber bullets. At least 14 people were injured in clashes overnight and on Monday.

Bahrain, where a Sunni family rules over a Shiite majority, has offered cash payouts in the run-up to the protest to prevent Shiite discontent from bubbling over as popular revolts spread in the Arab world.

"We call on all Bahraini people -- men, women, boys and girls -- to share in our rallies in a peaceful and civilized way to guarantee a stable and promising future for ourselves and our children," Bahraini activists said in a statement issued on Twitter.

"We would like to stress that Feb. 14 is only the beginning. The road may be long and the rallies may continue for days and weeks, but if people one day choose life, then destiny will respond."

Diplomats say Bahrain's demonstrations, organized on the social media websites Face book and Twitter, will be a gauge of whether a larger base of Shiites can be drawn on to the streets. The big test will be if demonstrations take hold in Manama, where demonstrations are rare.

Big protests in the Gulf Arab island state could embolden other marginalized Shiites in nearby Saudi Arabia, political analysts say.

There was no immediate comment from Bahraini authorities.

On Sunday Police clashed with residents in Karzakan village, where security forces regularly skirmish with Shiite youths, and one protester was injured, witnesses said. Police said three officers were hurt.

In the village of Nuweidrat, police used teargas and rubber bullets on Monday to disperse a crowd demanding the release of Shiite detainees, witnesses said, adding that 10 people were slightly injured.

"There were 2,000 sitting in the street voicing their demands when police started firing," 24-year-old Kamel told Reuters, declining to give his full name. Nearby, streets were littered with teargas canisters and rubber bullets.

The scene was different in Manama, where government supporters honked car horns and waved Bahraini flags to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a national charter introduced after unrest in the 1990s. Many Shiites believe they still do not have enough say in the country's affairs.

Bahrain is a small oil-producing country whose Shiite population has long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family, well before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists throughout the region.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, trying to defuse the tension, said he would give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each local family, and the government has indicated that it may free minors arrested under a security crackdown last year.

Non-OPEC Bahrain, which unlike its Gulf Arab peers has little spare cash to use for social problems, said last week it would spend an extra $417 million on social items, including food subsidies, reversing its attempts to prepare the public for cuts in subsidies.

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