Youth protesters, police clash across Bahrain

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 31, 2011 2:28 PM
Youth protesters, police clash across Bahrain

DUBAI (Reuters) - Shi'ite youths chanting slogans against Bahrain's royal family clashed with riot police across the Gulf island kingdom Saturday, trying to block highways in a second day of protests, residents said.

"Death to Al-Khalifa, Death to Al-Saud," protesters shouted, also targeting the Saudi ruling family, as they were chased backed into mostly Shi'ite Muslim villages by police who fired teargas, the residents said.

"The protests are not as big as the demonstrations on Friday. Police are focusing on trying to force protesters back into villages," one resident told Reuters.

Activists said in Twitter messages that a youth died after being injured in clashes in Sitra village. There was no immediate report on state media about the incident.

Inspired by "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of mainly Shi'ite Bahrainis took to the streets in February and March demanding curbs on the power of the Sunni Muslim Al-Khalifa family and an end to perceived discrimination.

The broader pro-democracy movement was suppressed with the help of military forces brought in from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But small, low-level protests have persisted on an almost daily basis.

Authorities said Saturday they had arrested an unspecified number of "saboteurs" for throwing petrol bombs at police during a protest Friday in the village of Nuwaidrat, near Sitra, south of the capital Manama, the state news agency BNA reported.

In November, a government-appointed commission of international jurists found evidence of systematic abuses against detained protesters.

The government has promised to implement the report's recommendations, which the U.S. Congress has linked to its approval of a $53 million arms sale to Western-allied Manama.

Bahrain has set up a body to implement the recommendations, including stopping rights abuses and punishing those responsible as well as retraining police and security forces. But opposition groups have cast doubt on the authorities' commitment to reform.

Saturday, the independent daily Al Wasat said on its website that the head of the body, Ali al-Salih, had handed in his resignation. There was no official confirmation of the report.

Bahrain is important to Western interests in the Middle East because it hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and faces Shi'ite giant Iran on the other side of the Gulf. Iran has denied Bahraini government accusations that it has incited the protests.

(Reporting by Firouz Sedarat)