In Bahrain, Protesters Declare 'Day Of Rage'
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
There's more evidence today that the revolution in Egypt is fueling unrest in other parts of the Middle East. In Yemen today, protesters demanded political reform. In Iran, the government tear-gassed protesters. And in the kingdom of Bahrain, demonstrators held a Day of Rage, as many protests in the Middle East have been dubbed.
NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Bahrain.
PETER KENYON: This small and wealthy kingdom, with its majority Shiite population ruled by a Sunni royal family, has seen its share of protests, usually on a very small scale. The government and its supporters often downplay the protests as the result of outside manipulation from Iran or particular segments of the Shiite community here.
When today's planned Day of Rage began with only a few isolated incidents, some began to wonder if the huge police deployment had left people afraid to protest.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
KENYON: But by the afternoon, Bahrainis began to find their voice.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING PROTESTERS)
KENYON: In a Shiite village north of the capital, a crowd of villagers - old and young, male and female - gathered to demand political reform.
Fifty-two-year-old organizer Ali Jassem was quick to point out that the demand was not regime change but political equality - or at least some steps in that direction.
NORRIS: This is our demand. We don't want to overthrow the government like other Arabian countries. We want only improvement and progress in the political process.
KENYON: Across from the demonstrators stood a throng of riot police. After a half-hour or so of chanting - but no violence - from the protesters, the police suddenly charged, firing tear gas and what appeared to be rubber pellets.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
KENYON: Demonstrators reacted according to their capabilities. Young men sprinted down the nearest alley, eyes streaming, choking on the acrid, sour gas. Women in full-length, black, Muslim coverings scrambled for sanctuary. Older men moved away at a slower pace, some hit by the police as they passed.
Later, it turned out one of the wounded was the organizer, Ali Jassem, who lay dazed in the street.
NORRIS: They attacked us here. Kicked me here. It meant nothing - just we are protesting peacefully.
KENYON: As the demonstrations spread to other Shiite areas to the north and west of the capital, there was some rock-throwing by young protesters, and trash- filled dumpsters were set alight. The demonstrators entered the capital, Manama, but were blocked from reaching the square, where they had hoped to gather.
This was not the way Bahrain's leaders planned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a political charter that was intended to usher in an era of reform and progress. But the foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, says if police brutality occurred, it was a mistake, not a deliberate tactic.
NORRIS: What I can guarantee you: There is no policy whatsoever of brutally dealing with demonstrations here and there. And if there's anyone who've committed a mistake, it will be punishable by law - no doubt.
KENYON: Analysts say there are many differences between Bahrain and Egypt - not least, a substantially higher standard of living. But on this day, at least, Bahrainis could claim kinship with the Egyptians and Tunisians who stood up to their regimes.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Bahrain.
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