ABU DHABI ø Bahrain has again been rocked by Shi'ite unrest, this
time directed against Asian expatriates.
Hundreds of Shi'ite Muslims rampaged through the Bahraini capital of
Manama on late Thursday as security forces tried to restore order. The
Shi'ites stormed the homes of Asian expatriates accused of being involved in
the liquor and prostitution trade. Two areas of Manama were swept by the
unrest, in which dozens of people were injured.
It was the first major incident of unrest in Bahrain in 2004. Over the
last year, Manama was struck by several Shi'ite riots, in which Western
tourists and other nationals were targeted. Liquor is banned by Islam but
permitted in Bahrain.
The unrest continued over the weekend when more than 500 people
demonstrated outside Manama police headquarters to protest the liquor and
prostitution trade in the Al Maharga section. The demonstrators said police
had failed to respond to previous complaints against Asian expatriates, Middle East Newsline reported.
"I don't agree with violence from any party," Al Wefaq National Islamic
Society chairman Ali Salman, who heads the largest Shi'ite society in
Bahrain, said. "But what happened was due to the Interior Ministry not
responding quickly to our calls."
Media reports said Bahraini and other Gulf nationals participated in the
riots. They said Bahraini police and security forces were deployed around
the capital to prevent further looting.
Western diplomatic sources have suspected that the riots were
organized by Shi'ite fundamentalists linked to Iran. They said the attacks
were meant to ward off Western tourists and particularly U.S. military
personnel. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in Manama.
In an unrelated development, Bahrain plans to send 50 police officers
for human rights training in March. The project by the Bahrain Human Rights
Society was launched in cooperation with the Interior Ministry in response
to accusations that Bahraini security forces had violated human rights
during the quelling of civil unrest.