Fresh turmoil in Bahrain as protesters mark 2nd anniversary of Saudi-led intervention
A Bahraini anti-government protester is engulfed in flames when a shot fired by riot police hit the petrol bomb in his hand that he was preparing to throw during clashes in Sanabis, Bahrain, Thursday, March 14, 2013. (AP / Hasan Jamali)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:44PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:33PM EDT
MANAMA, Bahrain -- Thousands of anti-government protesters threw firebombs and stones at riot police and burned tires in Bahrain on the second anniversary of the intervention by a Saudi-led force in the Gulf island's crisis.
The clashes were the worst in several weeks and served a reminder that there are elements of the opposition that have yet to buy into slow-moving talks with government officials.
Police fired stun grenades at the demonstrators during the clashes in the mainly Shiite neighbourhoods surrounding the capital, Manama. Starting early in the morning, the mostly young demonstrators blocked roads leading into scores of Shiite villages to prevent security forces from entering.
Bahrain's Shiite majority is seeking a greater political voice in the strategic Sunni-ruled kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The main Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq, said 35 protesters were wounded in the clashes, including three critically, in what it called a "systematic policy carried out under high, official orders to use violence against peaceful pro-democracy protesters."
It also accused police of using live ammunition and bird shot against some protesters.
"This is unforgettable day," said Maki Ali, an 18-year-old demonstrator from Bilad Al Qadeem, west of the capital. "I remember well how the Saudis with United Arab Emirates intervened in my country's internal affairs. They supported the government killing."
Saudi and other Gulf troops were deployed in Bahrain to help the Western-backed Sunni monarchy quell a wave of anti-government protests demanding a greater role for the country's Shiite majority.
Ameena Mohamed Hussain, a 21-year-old from the village of Diah, said she still carried a lot of anger from that day two years ago. More than 60 people were killed in more than two years of unrest inspired by the Arab Spring.
"This government doesn't hear our voices and I can't forgive what the (Gulf) troops did in my country," she said. "They supported our evil government."
The state-run news Bahrain News Agency did not mention the anniversary, but reported that several villages saw "acts of terrorism committed by saboteurs for the purpose of intimidating and jeopardizing the lives of citizens," including burning stolen cars and block roads with boulders and pylons. It said a "number" of policemen were injured when protesters attacked them with petrol bombs and detonated several homemade bombs.
"All these acts of terrorism were committed by outlaws in order to prevent citizens and residents from going to workplaces or performing their routine daily errands," the news agency said.
Al Wefaq and other main Shiite factions opened talks with government officials and Sunni envoys last week, but some hardline Shiite groups oppose dialogue. Many Shiites fear that the negotiations process will not weaken the monarchy's hold on power.
Opposition groups have demanded that the ruling dynasty relinquish much of its sweeping authority over the country's affairs, including picking all key government and military posts.