Bahrain activists rally, burn tires on uprising anniversary

AP News
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Posted: Feb 14, 2015 6:46 AM
Bahrain activists rally, burn tires on uprising anniversary

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Protesters took to the streets in predominantly Shiite areas of Bahrain and set tires alight along a major highway Saturday to mark the fourth anniversary of widespread protests calling for reform in the tiny island nation.

The demonstrations commemorate the start of Arab Spring-inspired protests on Feb. 14, 2011, dominated by the country's Shiite majority that sought greater political rights from the Western-allied Sunni monarchy.

Authorities crushed the protests within weeks after getting help from Saudi and Emirati security forces. But repeated rounds of dialogue talks between the government and the opposition have failed to resolve the deadlock.

Pearl Square, the focal point for the protest movement in the capital, Manama, was bulldozed as part of the initial crackdown and remains sealed off.

In largely Shiite areas on the capital's outskirts, young activists armed with rocks and gasoline bombs frequently block roads and fight police. Some have planted bombs that have killed police.

Several prominent opposition activists are in prison, face trial or have fled.

Among those behind bars is Shiite cleric Ali Salman, the head of Bahrain's leading Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, which led a boycott of November's parliamentary election. He faces charges of incitement to forcibly topple the government. He has denied the allegations.

Many Bahrainis say they feel increasingly disillusioned.

"Young people deserve to have alternative solutions for the political crisis in Bahrain," nursery school teacher Najeeba Sayed Fadhel said. "I still feel voiceless and without rights."

Saturday's protests were far smaller than those of the early days of the protest movement. Opposition activists cannot gather in large groups because security forces use checkpoints, tear gas and other methods to prevent them from getting on major highways.

Authorities earlier in the week warned Bahrainis to stay away "from activities that could negatively affect security or general order" and said those who engage in violence will be held accountable.

The country is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, and is part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State militant group.

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Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.