Bahrain set for fresh protests on revolt anniversary


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The Independent Online

Bahraini protesters dissatisfied with the government's reform moves prepared for a fresh attempt to retake a landmark roundabout today, the first anniversary of a pro-democracy uprising crushed by the Gulf Arab kingdom.

Unrest among majority Shi'ite Muslims has revived, posing a sensitive new challenge to the Sunni Muslim ruling elite who have been an important strategic ally of the West by hosting the YS Fifth Fleet to counter Shi'ite Iran across the Gulf.

The uprising broke out on 14 February, 2011 and mainly Shi'ite protesters occupied Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama for a month before security forces broke up the movement, inspired by revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, and imposed martial law.

The roundabout, which had a giant concrete edifice featuring a pearl that was later taken down, was shut to traffic and remains that way, renamed as al-Farouq Junction, and under tight guard. That security was beefed up in recent days as opposition activists sought to reclaim the symbolically rich space.

It remains enclosed by barbed wire on most sides and security guards have set up an encampment nearby.

A group of youths walked towards the area from the Shi'ite village of Sanabis on the edge of Manama early today, and activists posted images of other sporadic attempts to approach the site. Activists said some people had been arrested but the interior ministry could not confirm that.

Yesterday, hundreds of protesters broke away from an authorised opposition party march to march down the main highway into Manama, bound for the roundabout, before police stopped them with tear gas and rubber bullet pellets. Street battles ensued with youths throwing petrol bombs, rocks and iron bars.

In the early hours of today, youths flung volleys of petrol bombs at police cars that sped past to avoid being hit. They chanted in favour of Hassan Mushaimaa, a jailed Shi'ite leader who called for a republic last year.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa told the nation in an address on state television on the anniversary eve that he remained committed to reforms launched a decade ago, a process the opposition has dismissed as cosmetic.

"(This) marked the launch of a development and modernisation process, which is still moving forward to meet the aspirations of our loyal people in all areas," said the king, whose family has run the Gulf island state for over 200 years.

He said he had pardoned 291 prisoners, but they did not include those arrested during last year's revolt. The opposition are demanding the release of 14 leading figures who were jailed by a military court for allegedly trying to stage a coup.