Bahraini opposition activists are planning to hold a day of demonstrations throughout the tiny island country on Friday, in defiance of a ban on all public gatherings under martial law declared last week.
It was not clear which groups were behind the marches, plans of which were circulated by email and Internet. They did not appear to involve the mainstream Shi’ite Muslim opposition group Wefaq, nor the February 14 Youth Movement which led protests at Pearl roundabout that were dispersed by riot police a week ago.
Western countries appeared to be taking the plans seriously.
The British Foreign Office updated its travel advice on Wednesday to warn against travel to Bahrain and to inform Britons going to the Gulf Arab country about the protests.
“Those who are doing so should be aware there are possible demonstrations planned on Thursday 24 March at 15:30 in the Sanabis area; and on Friday 25th March in a wide range of locations,” it said on its website.
“The timings are not yet known but are likely to be during the afternoon. Whilst we seek to ensure the information we give is as reliable as possible, we cannot confirm that all such events will go ahead as listed.”
Bahraini security forces launched a crackdown on March 16 that drove protesters from the streets and saw troops and police fan out across Bahrain.
They also banned all marches and public gatherings though they have not dispersed the funeral processions of civilians killed in the crackdown, most of which turned into anti-regime protests. Security forces also turned a blind eye last week to a brief protest outside the Drazi mosque after Friday prayers.
“There is no Wefaq position over these protests. It appears to be the same way it began on February 14, some calls on the Internet and on Facebook that draw significant support,” said Wefaq spokesman Mattar Ibrahim Mattar.
“I expect there will be a lot of people protesting on Friday. Either the government does not use force and the protests return or they use force and there may be victims. Either way it will not calm the situation.”
Nine demonstrations appear to be planned for Friday, across different parts of Bahrain, including one headed toward the airport and one that aims to “liberate” Salmaniya hospital.
Security forces raided Salmaniya hospital during their crackdown last week, removing several tents set up by protesters in previous weeks. Doctors and human rights groups have complained that strict security has hampered medical access.
Four medical staff have been arrested at Salmaniya since the crackdown, doctors and opposition activists say.
“As long as people have legitimate demands, a security solution will not work,” Mattar said.
(us.mobile.reuters.com / 23.03.2011)