Protesters injured as tens of thousands rally in Bahrain: opposition

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Anti-government protesters shout anti-government slogans as riot police arrive at the scene during an anti-government protest in capital Manama, 12 January 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Hamad I Mohammed)

Published Friday, January 13, 2012

A former opposition MP accused Bahraini authorities of deliberately harming protesters on Friday as tens of thousands rallied throughout the Gulf state last night for democratic reforms.

Mattar Ebahim of the opposition Al-Wefaq party said many protesters were injured and arrested as security forces cracked down on the demonstrations.

The protests themed "No Withdrawal" – implying that activists will not back off from their demands for reform – took place in various parts of the capital Manama, as well as Duraz, Karbabad and Bilad Al-Qadeem.

"The protesters will continue and will not withdraw from protesting," Ebahim said.

The largest rally took place in the west of Manama, with 15,000 joining the protests, while 3,000 gathered in the center of the capital with renowned Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab.

Rajab was beaten by authorities in a protest last week, and later displayed his injuries to personnel at the US Embassy in Manama.

Ebahim noted that at least 13 people were injured, two critically, when security forces fired volleys of tear gas, and attacked protesters with batons, stun grenades and sound bombs.

One protester, Salman Sharif, was critically wounded when witnesses saw the man fall to the ground from three stories above ground in Karbabad.

It is unclear what forced Sharif to fall, but witnesses saw riot police chase him into the building.

"He was trying to escape from the riot police when they were chasing him, but we don't know what happened exactly before the boy fell," Ebahim explained.

Blogger Nader Abdulemmam was also seriously injured when a stun grenade hit him in the face in the Manama protest led by Rajab.

Claims of torture

Ebahim accused authorities of excessive force in their crackdown on protests, stating only that the methods of force have changed since a government-funded commission found authorities were heavy-handed in crushing similar protests last year.

"The security forces and the regime are still using excessive force, but it is different now. For example, most injuries are not caused by the bird shot used before, now more of the casualties are because of the tear gas," he said.

"They are targeting the protesters directly with tear gas canisters. This leads to many injuries and casualties. Also they are using sound bombs and targeting people directly."

The former MP also alleged security forces were still torturing protesters, but normally do so before they are arrested to avoid accountability.

"As for torture, before the report it was done inside the prisons, but now they are trying to avoid it by torturing the protester before they arrest them. They might take them to a building under construction, hide them there and torture them," Ebahim said.

"They are using new tactics, but the situation is the same."

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states sent troops and police to Bahrain last March to crush a pro-democracy uprising that eventually killed at least 35 people, according to the government-funded Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

However, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights put the death toll at 45.

Protests have recently resurfaced in the troubled Gulf state, as locals, inspired by similar pro-democracy protests that overthrew autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, push for greater reforms.

Bahrain and its Gulf allies accuse the protesters of being backed by Iran, but Ebahim said the government is attempting to create a distorted image of the opposition.

"The regime fails at convincing anybody with accusations that Iran and Syria are involved in the protests, even BICI was not convinced with this claim," he said.

"Any authoritarian regime will think of excuses to continue its policy."

Although a member of the Shia Al-Wefaq party, Ebahim refused to categorize the protests as a sectarian battle between Shia and Sunnis.

"The demands are not restricted to the Shia. For example, we are not asking to stop the persecution against Shia, we are asking to stop the persecution against all the anti-government protesters, " he said.

Ebahim noted key Sunni activists currently detained by the regime.

"There are some people who are in prison and are secular, and Sunni, such as Ibrahim al-Sharif. Many people who spoke at the Pearl roundabout are under trial and they are Sunni, such as Mohammad al-Boklasa," he said.

Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni royal family over a Shia majority.

While the opposition is limiting its demands to political reforms, the former MP conceded that certain pockets of activists wish to overthrow the autocratic monarchy.

Ebahim warned that should opposition efforts for a constitutional monarchy fail, calls for the complete end of the monarchy will only grow.



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