One protester killed, one critically hurt, say witnesses, as crowds clash with anti-riot police
Police in Bahrain fired teargas and rubber bullets to break
up pro-reform demonstrations on Monday and one protester was killed, witnesses
said, in a ‘Day of Rage’ stimulated by popular upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia.
Helicopters circled over the Gulf Arab state's capital
Manama, where protesters had been due to gather but which remained quiet as
security forces patrolled Shi'ite areas. More than 20 people were hurt, one of
them critically, in clashes in Shi'ite villages that ring the capital, witnesses
Bahrain, where a Sunni Muslim family rules over a Shi'ite
majority, offered cash payouts in the run-up to the protest, a move apparently
designed to prevent Shi'ite discontent from boiling over as "people
power" revolts spread in the Arab world.
Two witnesses at a Manama hospital said a 22-year-old
protester from Daih village died from bullet wounds in his back, and another
was in critical condition with a fractured skull.
In the village of Diraz, authorities dispersed with teargas
about 100 Shi'ite protesters who had squared off with police, demanding more
political rights. Another 10 were injured in Nuweidrat by police firing teargas
and rubber bullets at protesters calling for the release of Shi'ite detainees.
"There were 2,000 sitting in the street voicing their
demands when police started firing," 24-year-old Kamel said.
"We don't want to overthrow the ruling family, we just
want to have our say," said Ali Jassem, married to a daughter of Sheikh
Issa Qassem, a powerful Shi'ite cleric.
Diplomats say Bahrain's demonstrations, organised on
Facebook and Twitter, would gauge whether a larger base of Shi'ites can be
drawn to the streets.
"We call on all Bahraini people -- men, women, boys and
girls -- to share in our rallies in a peaceful and civilised way to guarantee a
stable and promising future for ourselves and our children," activists
said in a statement on Twitter.
"We would like to stress that February 14 is only the
beginning. The road may be long and the rallies may continue for days and
weeks, but if a people one day chooses life, then destiny will respond."
Analysts say large-scale unrest in Bahrain could embolden
marginalised Shi'ites in nearby Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.
There was no immediate comment from Bahraini authorities.
Protest organisers said they sought a new constitution, to
be drawn up a committee including both Sunnis and Shi'ites.
They want an elected prime minister, the release of
"all political prisoners", and a probe of torture allegations.
Bahrain is a small oil-producer whose Shi'ite population has
long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family, well
before uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists throughout the
While tension pervaded Shi'ite villages, in Manama
government supporters honked car horns and waved Bahraini flags to celebrate
the 10th anniversary of a national charter introduced after unrest in the
The cost of insuring Bahrain's five-year sovereign debt
widened by 10 basis points on Monday, according to Markit, in a sign investors
were worried about stability.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, trying to take the steam out
of protests, said he would give 1,000 dinars ($2,650) to each local family, and
the government has indicated that it may free minors arrested under a security
crackdown last year.
Non-OPEC Bahrain, which unlike Gulf Arab peers has little
spare cash to use for social problems, has also said it would spend an extra
$417m on social items, including food subsidies, reversing attempts to prepare
the public for cuts.