Bahrain’s mostly Shiite Muslim opposition called on supporters to mark the first anniversary of their anti-government protests by heading to the former Pearl Roundabout, focus of last year’s rallies.
Authorities arrested 12 people who were on their way to the roundabout early today, Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview. He said security forces are taking “harsh measures” to prevent protesters from leaving their villages.
“They are storming houses suspected of harboring demonstrators, using tear gas, closing roads and arresting people,” al-Maskati said.
Protests led by Bahrain’s Shiite majority broke out a year ago demanding democracy and equal rights from the Sunni monarchy, leading to a crackdown by security forces in which troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries were called in.
Bahrain’s army chief said on Twitter today that the commander of Peninsula Shield, as the Gulf force is called, is in the country and there are no plans for the troops to leave.
Tensions in the island nation have simmered in Shiite villages throughout the past year and have recently spread to the capital, Manama, as protests became more violent in the run- up to today’s anniversary.
‘Blood of Martyrs’
Pearl Roundabout, which was the center of the demonstrations in February and March last year, has been demolished by the government and the surrounding area turned into a military zone restricted by barbed wire. Protesters have tried several times to retake it.
The government has warned Bahrainis against responding to protest calls, saying civil disorder won’t be tolerated. A march by al-Wefaq, the largest Shiite group, yesterday turned violent with participants hurling Molotov cocktails and rocks at police, according to the security forces. Police used tear gas and stun grenades, opposition groups said.
Opposition parties said in a joint statement yesterday they will continue pressing for their rights and will make “no compromise on the blood of the martyrs.”
Thirty-five people died in the two months from Feb. 14, according to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The opposition says many more have died from tear-gas inhalation and torture, allegations the government denies.
The ruling al-Khalifa family accused Shiite-ruled Iran of encouraging the unrest, an allegation the Islamic republic has denied. Shiites represent about two-thirds of Bahrain’s native population, according to the U.S. State Department.