Bahraini forces fire tear gas at protesters

Bahrain`s security forces fired tear gas at anti-government protesters.

Updated: Mar 26, 2011, 00:42 AM IST

Manama: Bahrain`s security forces fired
tear gas at anti-government protesters in the Gulf kingdom
after a prominent Shiite cleric vowed that their demands
for the Sunni monarchy to loosen its grip on power will not be
silenced by "brutal force."

Bahrain`s government, meanwhile, brushed aside
suggestions for an international investigation into the deaths
of protesters during the month of unrest or allegations that
police attacked wounded protesters at a hospital.

Defying a ban on public gatherings, thousands of
people poured out of Friday prayer services at mosques in
Shiite towns and demonstrated against the ruling Sunni
dynasty, which has declared a three-month period of emergency
rule and invited in a Saudi-led military force to help quell
the unrest.

Bahrain is the Gulf country worst-hit by the wave of
political protest sweeping the Arab world. The stability of
the island kingdom is of particular concern to the United
States, which bases naval forces in the country as a key
counterweight to Iran`s growing influence in the region.

In today`s confrontations, riot police, backed by
soldiers, released thick clouds of tear gas to disperse
protesters in the Shiite villages of Malakiya, Karzakan and
several others west of the capital. There were also protests
in villages on the island of Sitra, the center of Bahrain`s
oil industry. There were no reports of deaths or injuries.

Bahrain`s Shiite majority, which has agitated for
equal rights for years, launched a much larger protest
movement after drawing inspiration from uprisings in Egypt and
Tunisia that brought down autocratic rulers there. They are
demanding greater political freedoms and a say in the running
of the country.

Throughout the month of unrest, at least 20 people
have been killed, including two policemen.

In Geneva, Bahrain`s acting health minister, Fatima
al-Balooshi, rejected the idea of an independent international
investigation into the deaths of protesters and allegations
that wounded protesters were abused at the country`s main

Al-Balooshi said Bahrain is conducting its own
investigation into the violence and denied claims by
protesters that some activists who were injured in the
government crackdown were questioned and beaten by police
while recovering in the state-run Salmaniya Medical Complex.

"This did not happen," she said. "The demonstrators,
they occupied the hospital. They were beating up the

At a prayer sermon in Duraz, an opposition stronghold
northwest of the capital, Manama, Sheik Isa Qassim said
Bahrain`s Shiite majority will continue demanding rights and
dignity despite the rulers` resolve to crush the uprising.

"The brutal force and abusive language being deployed
against us will never destroy our will and desire to achieve
our rights and dignity," Qassim said.