Alexa

Bahraini police stage security sweeps following clashes

Bahraini police stage security sweeps following clashes

Bahraini security forces conducted a second day of sweeps through Shiite villages Saturday, arresting those involved in protests over the past several days, said witnesses and opposition groups.
Large numbers of riot police could be seen around the northern villages where protests erupted Thursday, sparked by the death of a protester earlier in the week. Police also set up numerous security checkpoints throughout the small island kingdom.
"Sanabis village is now under siege for the fourth night with more than eight checkpoints blocking the entrance," said Abdul-Jalil Khalil, a parliamentarian with the Shiite opposition Wefaq bloc.
"I saw drivers harshly beaten after being forced out of their cars on the pretext police were looking for suspects," he added.
The Haq Movement for Liberty and Democracy, another opposition group, issued a statement that at least 23 people had been detained, three of which had to be hospitalized after being abused by police.
An Interior Ministry official confirmed that security forces had conducted arrests but would not comment on how many people had been detained. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, also confirmed that checkpoints had been set up in areas that had witnessed unrest.
The ministry issued a statement Friday saying they had arrested several protesters responsible for burning a police car and stealing an officer's weapon on Thursday.
Hundreds of family members of those detained staged an hour long sit-in outside the police station in the village of Bani Jamra on Saturday evening, demanding information about the incarcerated.
"We are the relatives of the arrested, we are here to release them," said one woman who requested anonymity for fear of being arrested.
"Someone from the Interior Ministry told us they will sort out the problem and they asked everyone to leave," she added, as scores riot police faced down the relatives.
A similar sit-in at the southern village of Malkiya turned violent and relatives were dispersed.
Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's 450,000 citizens, but the ruling family is Sunni. Economic disparities between the ruling elite and the poorer majority have contributed to feelings of marginalization among Shiites, who have waged an occasionally violent campaign against the government.
The head of the liberal political group Democratic Progressive Tribune, Hasan Madan, explained that much of the unrest comes from a lack of reform and jobs for frustrated young people.
"We can't separate what happened recently from the roots of the problem which can be summarized as a slowdown in reforms, setback and neglect of the youths," he said. "We urged the government to engage in serious dialogue with civil society and political organizations but received no response."
Resentment among Bahrainis is also high over government policy of granting citizenship to Sunnis from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Baluchistan province in Pakistan and giving them housing and jobs, often in the security forces, said rights activist Abdul-Nabi al-Ekri.
"The government has created a volatile situation by accelerating naturalization of foreigners with the aim of changing Bahrain's demography and this exacerbated frustrations among different sections of society."
Anti-government graffiti attacking the kingdom's ruling family and its naturalization policies could be seen throughout the island.
"A government that is against its people will fall by the will of God," said one slogan, accompanied by pictures of Bahrainis killed in the popular unrest in the 1990s. "Naturalization is the death of a peaceful nation," read another.
The widespread use of these naturalized foreigners in the security services, according to the opposition, is behind the violence against the demonstrators.
The kingdom is a close U.S. ally. The oil-refining and banking island also hosts the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.