Bahraini activists plan Friday 'day of rage'

Mainstream Shia opposition groups have distanced themselves from the demonstrations fearing violence.

    Pro-democracy protests for political reforms in Bahrain faced violent crackdown last week [Reuters]

    Pro-democracy activists in Bahrain are preparing to hold protests across the country, defying a ban on public gatherings under martial law declared last week.

    However, it was not clear who was behind the marches, named Friday "day of rage", plans for which were circulated by email and internet on Friday.

    Neither the mainstream Shia Muslim opposition group Wefaq nor the February 14 Youth Movement, which led the earlier protests at Pearl Roundabout, were involved.

    Wefaq, which draws crowds in tens of thousands when it calls for a protest, distanced itself from the demonstrations on Friday.

    "Wefaq affirms the need to protect safety and lives and not to give the killers the opportunity to shed blood," it said on Thursday.

    Nine demonstrations appear to be planned, across different parts of Bahrain, including one headed toward the airport and one that aims to "liberate" Salmaniya hospital, one of the focal points of protests.

    Security forces had raided Salmaniya hospital in the crackdown, removing several tents set up by protesters in the past.

    Doctors and human rights groups say strict security has hampered medical access and that four medical staff have been arrested.

    'Security is priority'

    Demonstrators demanding political and constitutional reforms, mostly members of the Shia majority, began mass protests against the Al Khalifa ruling family last month, drawing strength from the protest movement that has swept the Arab world in recent months.

    Last week Bahrain called in troopsfrom its fellow Sunni-ruled neighbours, declared martial law and launched a crackdown that drove the protesters from the streets.

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    Troops and police have fanned out across Bahrain and the government has said security is now the priority.

    It has banned all marches, but security forces have not broken up the funeral processions of civilians killed in the crackdown.

    More than 60 per cent of Bahrainis are Shias, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy.

    Calls by hardliners for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed Sunnis, who fear the unrest helps Iran, a Shia state separated from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain by only a short stretch of Gulf waters.

    Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council troops, which aided Bahrain police in a violent crackdown against the protesters in this tiny island kingdom, have since been stationed here.

    Western countries appeared to be taking the plans for Friday marches seriously. The British Foreign Office updated its travel advice to warn against travel to Bahrain and to inform Britons going there about the protests.

    Bahrain lodges complaint

    Meanwhile, Bahrain has made a formal complaint to the Lebanese government over Hezbollah's offer of support to mainly Shia protesters in the Gulf island nation.

    Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Bahraini foreign minister, said his country would not tolerate threats from what he termed a terrorist group and would consider lodging a complaint to "international sides" if Lebanon was not able to act.

    The warning highlights growing tensions in the world's largest oil-exporting region between Sunni-ruled Arab countries and non-Arab Shia power Iran.

    Bahrain has withdrawn top diplomats from Iran in protest over criticism of last week's crackdown on demonstrations, while Iran had recalled its ambassador earlier.

    Bahrain has suspended flights to Lebanon and warned its nationals not to travel there after Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah the leader, criticised Arab states for backing Bahrain's rulers while supporting the rebels in Libya.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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