Bahrain police disperse march with water cannon

MANAMA Mon Feb 20, 2012 2:02pm EST

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

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

Credit: Reuters/Hamad I Mohammed

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MANAMA (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.

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.

(Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Peter Graff)

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Comments (3)
Harry079 wrote:
“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.”

Your headline sounded as they were using a garden hose.

Feb 20, 2012 3:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
fredythefly wrote:
When a group of 25 kids run out into motorway traffic from an abutting shopping mall car park, it is an act of sheer lunacy. Those that encourage and incite youngsters to undertake such suicidal missions should be reported; the spotlight of your report. The police in Bahrain for all there faults only respond to provocation or when the safety of the public is at risk. As is often the case it was most definitely that today. I watched in horror thinking someone is going to get killed. Not by any policeman but by a ordinary motorist innocently driving down Bahrain’s main arterial motorway Sh Khalifa Highway. Fortunately for those involved at the time just after 5pm the traffic was heavy and speeds normally in excess of 100kph were much lower. This might not be the case next time, the consequence and the attribution of blame, I can see the headline already. Peaceful protester……..

Today, as on other occasions headline grabbing tactics of rioters, a very small percentage of Bahrain’s population, are the subject matter of your far from objective report. Its time to remember that Bahrain has a sizeable expatriate population, who are in majority beside the Sunni Shia mix so often reported. We are all affected by the actions of a few idiots whose passions have been whipped up by sectarian zealots in the name of democracy. Your reporters and those that feed them story lines are not the only witness to the facts on the ground here. 1.23million people live in Bahrain so how about telling the story of those of us who continue to go on with our rather mundane lives despite the actions of the lunatic fringe. Too boring for you is it, well as least ask us for information we have more eyes and ears than you can possibly imagine. I offer you some images I have placed on the web of today’s suicidal attempt to one block traffic on a motorway and two claim they were marching to the old roundabout Farooq Junction.

http://twitpic.com/8mfgbc
http://twitpic.com/8mfidy
http://twitpic.com/8mfoya

I have lived in Bahrain nearly 30 years – Instead of highlighting rioters and making them out to be the victims, report on the rest of us for the fact is if ever there was a victim in this sad story, we the hidden unheard majority are the real ones.

(the puffs of white smoke in the photos are from sound shots – NO tear gas was fired)
Fred Williams

Feb 20, 2012 10:06pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Charles875 wrote:
“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. ”

This seems pretty fair and in line with the laws of any “Western” country also. You’re not allowed to block highways in New York City or London on Washington, D.C. without a permit and if you do police will take measures to open the roadways again.

Feb 21, 2012 9:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
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