Massive Pro-Democracy Protests in Bahrain Met with Tear Gas
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in the Bahraini capital of Manama today in what was one of the largest protests to break out since an uprising was quelled last year. Demonstrators called for democratic reform and an end to the U.S.-backed dictatorship, which discriminates against the Shia Muslim-majority population and has been accused of widespread human rights abuses.
The protests come on the heels of clashes between democracy activists and the Bahraini government as the one-year anniversary of the uprising passed.
Al Akhbar English has the story:
Following the main protest, a few hundred activists attempted to force their way to the Pearl Roundabout – the center of pro-democracy protests last year until they were crushed by Bahraini and Saudi troops – but were prevented from doing so by security forces who fired tear gas.
There were no reports of major clashes but activists said that a number of people had been treated after inhaling gas fumes.
Bahrain's most senior Shia cleric Isa Qassim attended the march and walked with the people, the first time he has done so. However, Qassim declined to give a speech to the crowds.
Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said it was unlikely the march would change government policy but would raise the profile of the struggle.
"I don't think a protest will change the Bahrain government. But at least the King said we [the opposition] are only a few people so we have shown him this is not true."
Meanwhile, in Iraq, followers of the firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr protested in solidarity with the Bahraini uprising.
A Bahraini-government report issued late last year documented the human rights abuses committed by the Khalifa regime. According to the Economist, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry “described the systematic torture of prisoners, nearly all of them Shias,” as well as a ‘culture of impunity’ in Bahrain’s security forces.”
Bahrain is a close U.S. ally, and is the site of a strategically important U.S. navy base. While Congress has moved to block the sale of arms to Bahrain due to human rights concerns, the Obama administration has reportedly used a loophole to sell Bahrain military equipment.