Shi'ites riot in Bahrain against Asians, liquor and prostitution

Monday, March 15, 2004

ABU DHABI 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.

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