West Continues Quiet Support as Bahrain Suppresses Dissent

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Common Dreams

West Continues Quiet Support as Bahrain Suppresses Dissent

Protesters mark anniversary amid crack down

by
Common Dreams staff

Shiite protests continued today on the anniversary of the Bahraini uprising, despite a heavy security crackdown anticipating the commemorative demonstrations. Armored tanks patrolled villages on the outskirts of Manama and forces shot tear gas canisters at demonstrators around the city as the government sought to suppress further demonstrations and the retaking of Pearl Square, the site of the uprising one year ago today.

The Bahraini government has received continued support from the US and UK throughout the year-long crackdown, including arms sales.

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Reuters reports:

Armored vehicles patrolled Bahrain's capital on Tuesday in a security clampdown to deter protesters after overnight clashes outside Manama on the first anniversary of a forcibly suppressed pro-democracy uprising.

Youths flung petrol bombs at police cars during skirmishes before dawn, prompting authorities to flood Shi'ite villages around Manama with police reinforcements backed by helicopters.

Police fired tear gas at two dozen protesters near the former Pearl Roundabout, focal point of last year's protests, nearly hitting several people as canisters bounced off cars.

"They fired straight at us, they weren't even shooting in the air," said one protester as a passing driver hauled him into his car.

Other groups that appeared later were also doused with tear gas and about 30 people in total were detained and taken away.

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AP reports:

Bahraini security forces fanned out across the island nation in unprecedented numbers on Tuesday as Shiites marked the one-year anniversary of their uprising against the country's Sunni rulers.

"They fired straight at us, they weren't even shooting in the air," said one protester as a passing driver hauled him into his car.

Authorities sent troop reinforcements and armored vehicles to the predominantly Shiite villages around the capital Manama to prevent people from gathering and answering the call of the main opposition movement, Al Wefaq.

The government meanwhile threatened to take legal action against the organizers of protests on Monday that turned violent. This could herald a new crackdown on Al Wefaq, which until last year was tolerated but which has suffered sporadic prosecutions and detentions after it took the lead in last year's protests.

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Al-jazeera reports:

Activists reported on Tuesday that security forces had used stun grenades and shotguns to scatter hundreds of protesters attempting to occupy the roundabout which became the epicentre of weeks of protests last year by the Gulf island's Shia majority against the ruling Sunni dynasty.

Protesters marched from Sanabis, Deih and Jidhafs, which lie a few kilometres to the west of Manama, despite police warnings that protests would be dispersed, witnesses said.

"Down with (King) Hamad!" they chanted.

The Coalition of the Youth of February 14th Revolution, a group that operates separate from the main Shia bloc led by Al-Wefaq, declared on Tuesday that they planned to return to the central roundabout.

"All of us are returning", read a call for protest posted on its Facebook page, designating 6:40am local time (0340 GMT) as the starting time. [...]

More than 50 police vehicles filled a site that protesters have dubbed "Freedom Square", which hosted several government-sanctioned opposition gatherings last week.

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Bahrain has been consistently backed by the US and UK, despite its brutal yearlong crackdown. Over forty people have been killed in the year of turmoil; many others have been detained and tortured. Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times:

How poignant that the first anniversary of a true Arab pro-democracy movement in the Persian Gulf - then ruthlessly crushed - falls on February 14, when Valentine's Day is celebrated in the West. Talk about a doomed love affair.

And how does Washington honor this tragic love story? By resuming arms sales to the repressive Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty in power in Bahrain.

So just to recap; United States President Barack Obama told Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to "step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately" while King Hamad al-Khalifa gets new toys to crack down on his subversively pro-democratic subjects.[...]

The Obama administration took no time to preempt the "celebration" of Bahrain's crushed democracy push by dispatching a State Department honcho to Bahrain.

As reported by the Gulf Daily News, the so-called "Voice of Bahrain" (more like the voice of the al-Khalifas), US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman widely praised King Hamad's steps to "diffuse tensions" - such as "the release of political prisoners, a partial cabinet reshuffle and the withdrawal of security forces".

Feltman's briefers must have been catatonic, because political prisoners remain in jail, the cabinet reshuffle is cosmetic and security forces are in overdrive repression mode.[...]

So just to recap; United States President Barack Obama told Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to "step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately" while King Hamad al-Khalifa gets new toys to crack down on his subversively pro-democratic subjects.

He also said, "Bahrainis can count on US support to back a Bahraini consensus on the way forward" and praised the "sincerity" of Crown Prince Salman, also a deputy supreme commander and conductor of the national dialogue. [...]

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And the Guardian reports today:

Britain has continued to sell arms to Bahrain despite continuing political unrest in the Gulf state, new official figures disclose.

According to the figures the government approved the sale of military equipment valued at more than £1m in the months following the violent crackdown on demonstrators a year ago. They included licences for gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for military training aircraft. [...]

Security forces in Bahrain fired teargas and stun grenades at protesters in pre-dawn skirmishes before Tuesday's first anniversary of the uprising in the Gulf kingdom. Armoured vehicles patrolled the capital, Manama, in a security clampdown after protesters flung volleys of petrol bombs at police cars. There was also a massive police presence in Shia Muslim villages ringing Manama, with helicopters buzzing overhead, underlining the concerns of the Sunni-Muslim-led monarchy about a new explosion of civil unrest by Bahrain's disgruntled Shia majority. [...]

Sarah Waldron, campaign co-ordinator for CAAT, the campaign against the arms trade, said: "The UK seems to have learned absolutely nothing from the last year. In the glare of media attention in February last year it revoked some arms licences – but the latest figures show it was quickly back to business as usual."

A decision by the Obama administration to agree a $1m arms sale to Bahrain was attacked last week by Human Rights Watch.

"Bahrain has made many promises to cease abuses and hold officials accountable, but it hasn't delivered," said Maria McFarland, the group's deputy Washington director. "Protesters remain jailed on criminal charges for peacefully speaking out and there has been little accountability for torture and killings – crimes in which the Bahrain Defence Force is implicated."

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