Bahrain sees heavy security presence


Security forces moved out in unprecedented numbers today as Bahrain marked the one-year anniversary of the Shia-led uprising against its Sunni rulers.

On the eve of the anniversary, violence erupted at a rally in the Gulf nation’s capital of Manama as opposition supporters staged the largest attempt in months to retake Pearl Square, the city’s central roundabout that had served as the centre of weeks of anti-government protests last year, inspired by other Arab Spring revolts.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters on yesterday evening and protesters hurled firebombs and rocks at security forces. No serious injuries were reported.

Shias account for about 70 per cent of Bahrain’s population of some 525,000 people, but say they have faced decades of discrimination and are blocked from top political and security posts.

The kingdom’s Sunni rulers have promised reforms, although they refused to make the far-reaching changes the protesters and the main Shia group, Al Wefaq, have demanded. These include ending the monarchy’s ability to select the government, set key state policies and appoint most of the parliament members.

The government accused Al Wefaq of turning what would have been a peaceful march yesterday into a riot.

Al Wefaq rejected the claim, and said that the “unfounded accusations” are part of the rulers’ efforts to delegitimise people’s demands for greater freedoms and discredit the group that has led the protests during last year’s uprising.

“They have used excessive force against the people throughout all this time, but people keep coming back to the streets to insist on their demand to have a role in the decisions about their country,” Abdul Jalil Khalil, a former Al Wefaq parliament member said. He said the group was planning another rally later to mark the revolt’s anniversary.

The now heavily guarded Pearl Square holds great symbolic value for Bahrain’s opposition movement, and protesters have repeatedly tried to reoccupy it. But authorities have effectively locked off the capital to demonstrations since March.

Authorities said many protesters yesterday left the rally’s authorised route in Manama, turning it into a riot after police arrived. They said Al Wefaq was responsible for the violence, because it failed to “control the crowd [and] that jeopardised the safety of the people along a busy main road.”