Bahraini Shiites have marked the one-year anniversary of their uprising against the country’s Sunni rulers as security forces fanned out across the island nation in unprecedented numbers and police fired tear gas at protesters to pre-empt large demonstrations.
Authorities on Tuesday 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.
Six American members of an activist group were detained during the protests, activists and the government said.
Authorities said they had violated the terms of their visa, and that they agreed to leave the country without further legal measures taken against them.
They were deported yesterday, an Information Affairs Authority statement said.
Meanwhile, the government 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.
Police on Tuesday fired tear gas at protesters in an apparent attempt to pre-empt a repeat of the marches the night before, in which protesters made their largest effort in months to retake the city’s central roundabout.
Pearl Square had served as the epicenter of weeks of anti-government protests last year, and its reoccupation would be a major boost for the movement.
The government statement said many protesters on Monday departed from a pre-authorized route in Manama, turning the march into a riot after police arrived. It said Al Wefaq was responsible for the violence, because it failed to “control the crowd [and] that jeopardized the safety of the people along a busy main road.”
Legal procedures will be taken against the organizers of the march, Tuesday’s statement said.
Al Wefaq rejected the claim, and said that the “unfounded accusations” are part of the rulers’ efforts to discredit the group.
“They have used excessive force against the people throughout all this time, but people keep coming back to the streets to insist on their demand to have a role in the decisions about their country,” said Abdul Jalil Khalil, a former Al Wefaq parliamentarian.
Al-Wefaq yesterday said police made dozens of arrests while dispersing protesters attempting to march on Pearl Square on Tuesday.
“The total number of arrests ... is around 150, including women and children between the ages of 13 and 16,” the statement said, adding that some were later released.
Al-Wefaq said there were “large numbers of injuries to the demonstrators caused by birdshot pellets, tear gas canisters, stun grenades,” but gave no figure.
Additional reporting by AFP