Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bahrain Deaths of Demonstrators Fuel Opposition Protests

Bahrain Funeral May Spur Protesters as Opposition Arrested

March 17, 2011, 9:55 PM EDT
By Glen Carey

March 18 (Bloomberg) -- Bahrainis will gather in the village of Sitra today to mourn the death of a protester, a day after Bahraini security forces arrested opposition leaders and accused them of having ties with foreign countries.

Bahrain has been struggling to quell more than a month of protests led by Shiites calling for democracy and increased civil rights. About a dozen people have been killed in the protests.

Late last night residents of Sitra went to their rooftops and called out “God is great” over 15 minutes in protest of the government’s violent crackdown on the demonstrators. The funeral for Ahmed Farhan is slated for 8 a.m. local time.

“What happened to my son, must happen to the King’s son and family. Look what they did to us,” said Khadija Salman Ali, 52, the mother of Ahmed, in an interview from Sitra.

This month, a funeral in Sitra, which is a small island off the Bahrain coast, drew tens of thousands of mourners and developed into a protest.

Those arrested yesterday included Hassan Mushaima, a leader of the Shiite Haq movement, and Ebrahim Sharif, a secular Sunni and head of the opposition National Democratic Action Society, according to a statement today from al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite opposition party. Al-Wefaq said six people were arrested; the state-run Bahrain news agency gave no number.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has offered a national dialogue, and Crown Prince Salman has said he’s committed to talks. Opposition groups have dismissed the offers.

‘Go Extreme’

Shiites make up about 70 percent of the population and many retain cultural and family ties with Iran, as well as with Shiites in Saudi Arabia, a minority of about 10 to 15 percent. Earlier this week Iran withdrew its ambassador to protest against the growing crackdown against mostly Shiite demonstrators.

Riot police were deployed in Jidhafs, a Shiite village on the outskirts of Manama, to break up a demonstration yesterday. They used tear gas, sound bombs and rubber bullets to end a rally of about 100 people, according to Ibrahim Ahmed, 34, a witness to the protest.

“In times like this, you often go more extreme. The elements of the opposition are becoming tougher because of the use of violence,” said Simon Henderson, Director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a telephone interview. “The leadership is being arrested but there hasn’t been mass arrests of demonstrators, and so there are still very many angry people out there.”

State of Emergency

Bahrain’s BB All Share Index rose 0.1 percent as trading resumed yesterday after a one-day suspension. Fitch Ratings lowered the country’s foreign-debt rating by two levels on March 15 and said another cut is possible.

The government declared a three-month state of emergency on March 15 after troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states arrived to support the administration.

The protests have fueled Saudi fears that unrest may spread to the kingdom, which holds about 20 percent of global oil reserves.

Crude for April delivery gained as much as $2.24 to $103.66 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and was at $103.08 at 10:57 a.m. Sydney time. Yesterday, it jumped $3.44 to $101.42, the highest close since March 10. Prices are up 1.8 percent for the week and 25 percent higher than a year ago.

Regional Support

In Saudi Arabia, about 1,000 people in the eastern city of al-Qatif defied a ban on demonstrations and protested peacefully March 15 to demand the country’s troops end their incursion into neighboring Bahrain.

Almost 1,000 Kuwaiti Shiites demonstrated in Kuwait City yesterday in solidarity with the Bahraini protests. An estimated 30 percent of Kuwait is Shiite.

In Iraq, which has a Shiite majority, Moqtada al-Sadr, a leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, called for a march in support of protesters in Bahrain.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency said the opposition leaders were arrested for “contacting foreign countries.”

“The General Command of the Bahrain Defense Force will take all necessary legal measures” against those arrested, it said.

Iran recalled its ambassador to Bahrain, Mehdi Agha-Jafari, March 16 to protest the crackdown, state-run Mehr news agency reported.

Bahrain earlier recalled its envoy to Tehran after Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast referred to the deployment of Gulf troops as “meddling.”

Pearl Roundabout

Riot police forced protesters from their main gathering point at the Pearl Roundabout on March 16. Two members of al- Wefaq were killed, the group said, while two policemen died when they were hit by a car during the operation.

After the clashes, the military imposed a curfew on parts of the country and banned protests and public gatherings.

The arrest of the opposition members is likely to increase tensions and is counter-productive, according to Eric Avebury, vice-chairman of the U.K. Parliamentary Human Rights Group.

“If you have demonstrators blocking the financial center and are determined to do so again, the government has to make some decisions that will satisfy the opposition just for the sake of getting on with normal business,” Avebury said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Bahrain is a command center for U.S. naval operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean. It is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which protects oil-supply lines passing through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

To help Bahrain finance social spending that would meet some opposition demands, Gulf states on March 10 said they plan to provide the country with $10 billion over a decade. Oman, which has also seen protests, was allocated a similar sum.

--With assistance from Nadeem Hamid in Washington, Alaa Shahine in Dubai and Caroline Alexander in London. Editors: Andrew J. Barden, John Simpson

To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Manama, Bahrain at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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