Bahrain policemen injured as tension mounts over hunger striker

Published Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Seven Bahraini policemen were wounded, three of them seriously, when a home-made bomb exploded on Monday, an Interior Ministry spokesman said, during a protest near the capital calling for the release of a human rights activist on a two-month hunger strike.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at riot police to lure officers into Eker, a village outside the capital Manama, before the rare explosion was set off, the spokesman said.

A police source later said two of the wounded were moved to Bahrain's largest hospital, the Salmaniya, with extensive burns but that two others were in such serious condition that they could not be transported there immediately.

On Sunday, Bahrain ruled out extraditing the jailed Bahraini human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, also a Danish citizen, despite a request from Denmark to hand him over because his health was worsening due to being on hunger strike.

Fifteen leading human rights groups co-signed a letter to US President Barack Obama urging Washington to pressure Bahrain into releasing al-Khawaja.

The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), along with fourteen NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and Physicians for Human Rights, said al-Khawaja and 13 other opposition figures in prison for their role in last year's protests are prisoners of conscience and should be freed.

Daily protests to demand his freedom have been taking place across the small Gulf Arab island state, with Bahrain's opposition holding the government responsible for the political unrest.

A statement released by opposition party Al-Wefaq renewed their pledge to keep the revolution peaceful despite continued government brutality.

"The societies have renewed their condemnation of any kind of violence. They are monitoring the situation very closely and are deeply concerned about the excessive use of force against pro-democracy protesters," Al-Wefaq said.

Khawaja's lawyer said on Friday that the activist had been moved to a military hospital and was being fed intravenously.

Protesters have also demonstrated against plans to host the Formula One Grand Prix. Last year's race in Bahrain was postponed, reinstated, and then cancelled due to the uprising and bloody crackdown.

The governing International Automobile Federation (FIA), commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone, and Bahrain organizers have all said the April 22 race is on, despite ongoing reports of human rights violations by authorities.

But motor racing teams headed to China on Monday for a race on April 15 were still unsure whether their return trip would take them to Bahrain for the following competition, due to safety fears.

Team sources told Reuters some had hedged their bets by routing personnel on return flights via Abu Dhabi, Dubai, or Oman with alternative reservations for the last leg of the journey back from Shanghai.

Bahrain has faced a pro-democracy uprising since February 2011 and has used brutal force to crush the protests since last March with the aid of Saudi Arabia.

Protests resurfaced toward the end of 2011 and have since gained momentum as Bahraini authorities attempt to quell dissent through the use of force.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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