Bahrain lifts emergency law

June 1, 2011

Bahrain lifted martial law Wednesday in what the government appeared to hope would be a sign to tourists and businesses of a return to normal, but the opposition continued to voice fears that repression will continue in the Persian Gulf island kingdom.

Bahrain is especially eager to get back the Formula One race. The March Grand Prix opener was canceled because of unrest that erupted in February when pro-democracy demonstrators, inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, clashed with police.

The sport’s governing body is meeting Friday and could decide to reinstate the race for later this year, but New York-based Human Rights Watch has said that a crackdown on opposition activists during 11 weeks of martial law should be factored into the decision-making.

The dusty streets of the capital, Manama, were calm Wednesday, but there was a heavy presence of riot police in outlying Shiite villages, according to online activists.

“With the end of the emergency situation, the security would not be here, but they still are,” said Ali Zirazdi, a 30-year-old unemployed man, adding that police had fired tear gas after a few hundred people gathered in the Shiite village of Diraz.

Al-Jazeera television later quoted witnesses as saying that police opened fire and used tear gas to disperse protesters, arresting several. It said dozens were hurt.

Bahraini activists reported on social media outlets that at least one person was wounded by birdshot during a protest.

The reports could not be independently verified.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, whose Sunni Muslim family rules over Bahrain’s majority-Shiite population, offered a dialogue on reform in a speech Tuesday.

“I hope the opposition joins the dialogue,” said writer Taher Mohammed, 26. “I’m totally against any call for protests. It would affect all Bahrainis, and it could get out of control and lead to direct clashes.”

While the king spoke, military prosecutors summoned four members of the main opposition party, al-Wefaq, including its leader, and rights activist Nabeel Rajab, for questioning. They were released after several hours, acquaintances said.

“The end of the national security law and announcement of dialogue are both positive. It will be a shame if anyone is negative about it,” said Jamal Fakhro, a Sunni lawmaker.

“Bahrain will welcome Formula One and any other event. There’s nothing wrong with that because life is back to normal now, and it will be excellent to have it back.”

— Reuters

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