Masked Bahraini anti-government protesters push an old water tank into burning tires during a protest against U.S. support for the Bahraini monarchy, in Sitra, Bahrain, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012. Elsewhere, clashes erupted after police fired tear gas to disperse more rallies against the United States.

Hasan Jamali, Associated Press - Ap

U.S. ally Bahrain bans all dissent

  • Article by: RICK GLADSTONE
  • New York Times
  • October 30, 2012 - 8:57 PM

Bahrain, the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom that is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, has banned all demonstrations after months of protests by anti-government demonstrators who have been pressing for a greater political voice there since the Arab Spring revolts began in early 2011.

Lt. Gen. Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, who is the interior minister, said political opposition activists had abused what he called the government's tolerance for freedom of expression by allowing protests to turn violent repeatedly.

"It was decided to stop all rallies and gatherings until ensuring that security is maintained through achieving the targeted security to protect national unity and social fabric to fight extremism," Al Khalifa said via the official Bahrain News Agency. It quoted the interior minister as saying "any illegal rally or gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for it and participants."

Bahrain, ruled by a Sunni-led monarchy, has been roiled by protests and violence because of tensions with the Shiite majority, who have been seeking more power, drawing inspiration from the Arab Spring revolts that felled authoritarian governments, including in Tunisia and Egypt.

The Bahraini authorities have been singled out for criticism by international rights activists for their previous crackdowns on opposition activists, the prosecution of medical workers who have aided wounded activists, and the heavy and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other weapons, including bird shot, to dispel protesters.

More than 50 people have died, including some police officers, in nearly 21 months of intermittent clashes in Bahrain. The protests intensified last month after police officers clashed with mourners at a funeral procession for a 17-year-old killed in a bout of street violence.

The political tensions have put the United States in the uncomfortable position of supporting Bahrain's government because of its strategic value as a bulwark against neighboring Iran. Critics have called such U.S. backing an act of hypocrisy.

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