Bahrain rioters hit streets, torch cars of Arab playboy boozers

Monday, March 22, 2004

ABU DHABI Shi'ite attacks against foreigners are now targeting playboys from neighboring Arab states who come to Bahrain for the more readily available alcohol.

Western diplomatic sources said last week's street violence appears to have shifted its focus from Westerners to Gulf Arab nationals who use Bahrain as the watering hole of the region. The kingdom is the only Gulf state that approves the public sale and consumption of alcohol, banned by Islam.

Most of the patrons in the La Terrasse restaurant, one of the targets of last week's rampage, were Gulf Arabs, particularly Saudi nationals. Two cars owned by Saudi nationals were torched.

The diplomatic sources said the Shi'ite vigilante campaign appears to be supported by members of Bahrain's parliament, dominated by fundamentalists. Many parliamentarians have called for a ban on alcohol and the expulsion of the U.S. military presence in the kingdom.

Bahraini police and security forces have been unable to quell Shi'ite attacks against foreigners, including those from other Gulf Cooperation Council states, Middle East Newsline reported.

The diplomatic sources said police have often seemed unwilling to respond to complaints of attacks by Shi'ites against Westerners or other GCC nationals said to have been in violation of Islamic law.

Last Wednesday, Arab and Western expatriates came under attack by Shi'ite militants in the capital Manama. Shi'ites torched cars and attacked patrons in a restaurant in what was termed a campaign against the sale of alcohol in the kingdom.

Scores of Shi'ites, armed with knives and batons, attacked customers, looted and vandalized restaurants and torched cars. At least three people were injured and several of the attackers were arrested.

The rampage began with attacks on suspected Asian alcohol dealers in Manama. Shi'ite rioters, who sought to break bottles of alcohol, clashed with Bahraini security forces throughout the night as the violence spread toward the affluent suburbs.

"I doubt that I will continue to operate in Bahrain after what happened," J.J. Bakhtiar, the co-owner of La Terrasse restaurant said. "Customers are afraid, and I had to spend all day today convincing the customers who had reserved places at the restaurant that it was safe for them to come here and enjoy a meal."

This was the second Shi'ite attack in as many weeks in what was termed an Islamic campaign against alcohol. In early March, hundreds of Shi'ite youngsters rampaged through the Asian section of Manama, beating expatriate laborers and destroying property. Bahrain has a Shi'ite majority that regards itself as close to neighboring Iran, but is ruled by a Sunni royal family.

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