Demos begin in Bahrain’s Sunni heartland

March 12, 2011

MANAMA - Clashes broke out in Bahrain’s Sunni heartland of Riffa on Friday as pro-democracy youths were attacked by rock-throwing government-backed demonstrators.

According to the Financial Times, in a move aiming to escalate demonstrations as the political stalemate continues, anti-government protesters were met by a wall of riot police standing behind barbed wire before reaching their goal of demonstrating peacefully in front of the king’s royal court.
The stand-off ended when pro-government supporters moved from behind police lines to confront pro-democracy demonstrators as they moved back.
Street skirmishes ensued as police attempted to push back what the pro-democracy protesters described as Baltagis, after the thugs hired by the Egyptian regime to confront demonstrators in the North African state, whose revolution has inspired the movement in Bahrain.
Thousands of protesters rushed back to the barbed-wire fence separating the two sides, with some throwing rocks back.
The police, who had attempted to intercept the pro-government supporters, finally shot tear gas canisters into the crowd to drive them away.
Scores of opposition protesters then formed a human chain to slowly shepherd the demonstrators away from police and pro-government supporters.
Hiring foreigners to kill protesters
Meanwhile, the Bahraini regime is continuing to hire hundreds of former soldiers from Pakistan to serve in its National Guard, even as pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain demand an end to the government’s controversial practice of recruiting foreigners into the security forces.
According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency, a classified advertisement entitled “Urgent Requirement: Manpower for Bahrain National Guard” was recently placed on the website of a prominent Pakistani human resource firm that has close ties to the Pakistani military.
The advertisement said Bahrain was seeking to hire several categories of ex-military personnel, including anti-riot instructors, Pakistan Military Academy drill instructors, retired infantry majors, and military police.
The advertisement added that a delegation from the Bahrain National Guard would be visiting Pakistan for the purpose of selecting the Pakistani personnel from March 7 to March 14.
It is difficult to confirm the exact number of former Pakistani soldiers who have been recruited in response to the recent ad, but sources claim as many 800 Pakistanis have been hired in the past few weeks.
Human rights activists have long complained about the controversial practice of hiring large numbers of foreigners to serve in the Bahraini security forces to suppress political dissent in the kingdom.
Bahrain’s police, military, and national guard are staffed in large part by non-Bahraini citizens, mostly from Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria.
The escalation of events comes as protests take place in neighboring Saudi Arabia, signaling the expansion of anti-government movements across the region.
The February 14 coalition, which organized the first demonstrations in Bahrain last month, said, “It has become clear that the al-Khalifa regime and their cohorts do not value the blood of the natives of this land as much as they value their monopolization of power, whilst stealing the wealth of the people and repressing and depriving citizens of their basic rights.”
“The ‘Friday Fall’ march along with all other activities organized by the February 14 coalition are peaceful with the aim of bringing down the regime in order to put an end to tyranny and oppression,” the statement added.
The mainstream opposition parties have refused to enter into formal talks with the government until it accepts in principle that Bahrain should become a true constitutional monarchy.
Many younger protesters reject even the idea of a constitutional monarchy, and have pledged to continue to demonstrate until the regime is ousted.