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More riots in Bahrain, Gulf neighbors brace for trouble

Tuesday, January 7, 2003

ABU DHABI Bahrain has acknowledged that a massive riot against foreigners over New Year's eve was organized and could have included foreign elements.

Officials said the riots could be the first of a series of massive demonstrations against the United States and its Arab allies in the Gulf region. Over the weekend, thousands of people, chanting "Death to America, Death to Israel," called for an end to the U.S. military presence in Bahrain, Middle East Newsline reported.

The New Year riots were comprised of more than 2,000 people brought to the entertainment district of Manama to attack foreigners, particularly Westerners and Saudis, officials said. They said the rioters, most of them young men from the countryside, were told to destroy U.S. restaurant franchises as well as hotels where liquor was being sold.

Manama is regarded as the only Gulf Cooperation Council capital where liquor can be obtained without any restrictions. The city attracts both Arabs and Westerners.

Bahraini security forces were outnumbered by the rioters by nearly three to one, officials said. They said the rioters, organized in groups of up to 50 in several districts in Manama, pelted anti-riot police with stones and lit firecrackers.

"What happened was deliberately aimed at causing chaos and harm to the security and stability which the country enjoys," Interior Minister Mohammed Bin Khalifa Al Khalifa said. "They were aiming to corrupt and distort the historic achievements of the kingdom. We will not go easy on those who try to incite violence and instability."

Officials said the investigation is focused on whether Shi'ite insurgents and their backers abroad organized the unrest. Three Saudi nationals have already been arrested in connection with the riots and diplomatic sources said they will be deported to Saudi Arabia. The attacks focused on Western nationals as well as those from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

"It was obvious that they had planned this gathering in advance," Bahraini parliamentarian Sa'adi Mohammed Abdullah, who witnessed the riots, said. "They even attacked tourists who were here with their families. It is obvious that the attacks were on purpose and targeted family tourism and tarnishing Bahrain reputation as a premier tourism destination."

Abdullah said the riots were not organized by legitimate Islamic groups.

But other officials said they suspect that Islamic fundamentalists planned the attacks to force the kingdom to ban liquor and Western-style entertainment. Parliament began a debate on the riots on Monday.

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