Anti-riot police clash with Bahrainis protesting restricted access to tiny islands
The Associated Press
Monday, October 15, 2007
Hundreds of security troops fired tear gas and heavy rubber bullets on Monday to disperse Bahrainis who gathered in an attempt to visit the kingdom's third largest island, which the public is normally restricted from visiting, local officials and witnesses said.Security troops deployed along Bahrain's western coastal line, especially in Shiite-dominated villages to prevent Bahrainis from approaching Um Nasan island, witnesses said.Helicopters hovered above and women were seen hurrying to their houses fearing anti-riot police, which sealed off roads leading up to the village of Malikiya and other small towns on the western coast."They fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the people gathering," said Sayed Hashim, one of the protest organizers.No one was allowed to approach the coastal line, including an Associated Press photographer who was threatened by a masked policeman with a pistol and ordered to leave.Some young Bahrainis reacted by setting tires on fire, according to witnesses."The young protesters tried to blow up a gas cylinder, but they failed to do so," said Ahmed Mansour, a city council official in Malikiya.
The protests appear to have been triggered by Shiite opposition in Bahrain to defy a taboo by debating the royal family's ownership of some 30 Bahraini islands and banning citizens and residents from having access to them.
Regular Bahrainis occupy four main islands while the rest are inhibited by royal family palaces and some are used for military purposes.Bahrain's Interior Ministry said in a statement that the island of Um Nasan is for military use and national defense."Therefore it's banned for anybody to approach or to carry out any activity close to it or he will be violating the law and will be punishable by law," the statement carried by Bahrain's official news agency said.The idea for Monday's protest came after the minister of municipalities issued a statement saying all the islands were public property. A committee of residents from western villages then sent an invitation to Bahrainis to visit the island. On Sunday, the royal endowment warned citizens against visiting Um Nasan.Discussion over the royal family's possession of the majority of Bahraini islands was taboo for many years until about two years ago when the parliament, which Shiites make up about 40 percent, began questioning it. Shiites, who make up more than 60 percent of Bahrain's 700,000 people, have long complained they are squeezed out of power by the Sunni monarchy.Part of the controversy was also sparked when the Web browser-based mapping tool Google Earth was first introduced in Bahrain, showing pictures of the vast areas of Bahraini territories occupied by royal family palaces.Only those who obtain a permission from the king are allowed to enter those islands.Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is a close ally of Washington.