Clashes Across Bahrain As Protesters Demand Reform

Published December 31, 2011 7:00PM (EST)

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Riot police in Bahrain clashed with reform activists Saturday in one of the most widespread days of protest in the Gulf kingdom for months, firing rubber bullets and filling the air with stinging tear gas. A gas canister fired from a gun at close range struck a 15-year-old in the chest and killed him, the opposition said.

The violence broke out in several towns around the small island nation, and protesters fought back by hurling rocks and firebombs at police.

Crowds across Bahrain again began to take their anger to the streets in recent days, pressing for action on recommendations by a government-sponsored inquiry that found evidence of torture and other abuses against detainees.

The head of a committee set up by the government to study ways of implementing the report's recommendations resigned Saturday, apparently out of frustration with the lack of progress.

The demonstrations are led by Shiite Muslim activists seeking more rights from the ruling Sunni dynasty, but they have stopped short of calling for its overthrow as in other protest movements that grew out of this year's Arab Spring. Bahrain's Shiites are about 70 percent of the nation's 525,000 citizens and have long complained of widespread discrimination, such as being blocked from top government or military posts.

The 15-year-old killed Saturday, Sayed Hashim Saeed, was from the southeastern Bahraini island of Sitra. He was hit by a tear gas canister and later died at a hospital, said Hadi al-Mousawi, a spokesman for the country's largest Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq.

"Ongoing repression in Bahrain is happening amid international silence as people demand democratization and reject dictatorship," said Al Wefaq in a statement.

Several injuries were also reported by activists and rights groups.

The special commission that investigated Bahrain's turmoil outlined a number of recommendations. They include allowing some 4,000 workers fired for taking part in protests to return to their jobs, releasing political prisoners who made confessions under abuse, and throwing out guilty verdicts for those tried in state security courts, which have since been dissolved.

The head of the committee tasked with studying the recommendations, Ali Saleh, resigned, saying in a statement Saturday that he was attacked by state media and senior government officials for trying to do his job. He did not elaborate.

The Interior Ministry said it arrested several people on Saturday for attacking police with firebombs.

Bahrain is a critical U.S. ally and is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Washington has taken a cautious line with authorities, urging Bahrain's leaders to open more dialogue with the opposition, but avoiding too much public pressure.

By Salon Staff

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