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US-Backed Bahraini Forces Suppress Protesters in Anniversary Demonstrations

Journalists and rights activists deported in lead up to clashes

- Common Dreams staff

Today, police are clashing with protesters in Bahrain, marking the eve of the one-year anniversary of pro-democracy protests there. Protesters marched from the outskirts of Manama towards the center of the city, planning on retaking Pearl Square, the original site of Bahraini protests last February.

The US backed Sunni monarchy 'bolstered security' in the days leading up to today's protest, including the denial and deportation of rights activists and journalists. Today, forces have fired tear gas and stun grenades into the crowds of protesters, inciting clashes between the two. Dozens of protesters have been killed in the past year of governmental suppression. US officials recently reiterated their undying support for the Bahraini government citing them as a crucial ally in the region.A Bahraini anti-government protester covers his face with a national flag against tear gas fired by riot police Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, on the main highway into the capital of Manama, Bahrain. (Photo: AP /Hasan Jamali)

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AP reports:

Thousands of opposition supporters marched through Manama's streets in the largest attempt in months to retake Pearl Square, the central roundabout that served as the epicenter of weeks of protests last year by Bahrain's Shiite majority against the ruling Sunni dynasty.

Thousands of riot police and other security forces have staked out positions around the square and across the Gulf island nation to prevent the opposition from staging a mass rally in or near the plaza to mark Tuesday's one-year anniversary of the revolt.

Opposition supporters were undeterred by the authorities' warnings of zero tolerance for anti-government activities around the strategic island that is the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

"We will not back down," said Nader Abdulimam, who had taken refuge in a house just outside of Manama with other protesters overcome by tear gas. "This has gone on for one year and it will go for another year or more."

Some protesters hurled firebombs and rocks after the security forces fired tear gas. In an area about six miles (10 kilometers) west of central Manama, some demonstrators stood atop Bahrain's ancient burial mounds — some more than 5,000 years old — waving flags featuring the image of Pearl Square's six-pronged monument. [...]

The now heavily guarded square holds great symbolic value for Bahrain's opposition movement, and protesters have repeatedly tried to reoccupy it. But authorities have effectively locked off the capital to demonstrations since March.

"We will not back down," said Nader Abdulimam, who had taken refuge in a house just outside of Manama with other protesters overcome by tear gas. "This has gone on for one year and it will go for another year or more."

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Today's protests come after a year of turmoil in the country and the denial of protester's requests for democratic transitions.

AFP reports:

Amnesty International said on Monday the government "remains far from delivering the human rights changes" recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

Despite several announcements claiming progress, "the fact is that it has still not delivered in the most important areas," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Victims and families of victims of the serious human rights violations... are still waiting for justice," she added.

The rights group called on Bahraini authorities "to allow" the anniversary protests to take place.

The death toll from last year's unrest was 35, including five security personnel and five detainees tortured to death while in custody, the BICI report said last November.

But Amnesty said on Monday "at least a further 20 have died since" in protests because of the continued use of excessive force by security personnel.

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Bahraini authorities have been denying journalists access to the country in the lead up to the anniversary protests, including reporters from Human Rights First and Freedom House.

Al-jazeera reports:

When martial law began in mid-March last year, many local journalists were arrested or forced into exile, and most foreign journalists inside Bahrain were asked to leave. Since then the government has not had a consistent policy with granting visas, often offering media credentials valid for only a few days or denying entry altogether.

When Al Jazeera recently applied for media visas to report from Bahrain for the one week surrounding the anniversary, it received a letter stating: "Due to the high volume of applications we will not be able to grant your visa for the specified dates."

New York Times correspondent Nick Kristoff Tweeted on Wednesday: "Bahrain is keeping out journalists generally, not just me, to have a freer hand cracking down." [...]

...the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency reported on Wednesday that it would not be allowed to enter. "Bahraini authorities have rejected a visa request by AFP to cover the first anniversary of the pro-democracy Shiite-led protest that was brutally crushed," the AFP reported.

Correspondents from other media outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and the UK's Channel Four, have all reported that their applications were denied.

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Democracy Now! reported today that rights activists are being suppressed and deported in the lead up to this week's protests. The US continues to uncritically support Bahrain and champion it as a valuable ally in the region:

On Saturday, Bahrain arrested and detained two American citizens, Huwaida Arraf and Radhika Sainath, for their role in recent protests. They were deported Sunday and returned to New York last night. Both Arraf and Sainath are human rights activists and members of the Witness Bahrain initiative, which places international observers in the country in the hopes of preventing violence by security forces.

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