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Cablegate: Bahraini Shi'a Demonstration Turns Violent -- Yet

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS MANAMA 000756

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DS/IP/NEA, DS/ITA, DSERCC, DS/ATA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PTER
SUBJECT: BAHRAINI SHI'A DEMONSTRATION TURNS VIOLENT -- YET
AGAIN

REF: MANAMA 00750

1. By Wednesday, 05/19/04, Post had anticipated a large
demonstration in Bahrain for Friday, 05/21/04. Our
projection was based on calls by Hassan Nasrallah and
Ayatollah Ali Sistani for Shi'a to rise up and demand the
withdraw of U.S. forces from Karbala and Najaf. Multiple
Embassy contacts corroborated our information that Bahraini
Shi'a planned to demonstrate, adding that many intended to
wear symbolic white "death shrouds," an ominous gesture. As
noted in RefTel, Post issued a warden message on 05/19/04
that warned Americans of the potential disturbances.

2. As expected, at 1600 on Friday, 05/21/04 following
afternoon prayers, a large crowd began to gather in the Seef
district of Bahrain (approx. 6km from the Embassy). Several
eyewitnesses reported to RSO that some of the individuals
appeared to be carrying "sticks and rocks." The stated
intention of the demonstration's organizers, the Islamic
Enlightenment Society and the Al Wefaq National Islamic
Society, was to march peacefully along a simple circular
route.

3. By 1615, the number of protesters quickly swelled to
around 4,000 - 5,000. What happened next is somewhat
nebulous because the police closed all streets approaching
the demonstration area. From our understanding of reports
from multiple sources, GOB riot police stopped the protesters
from continuing along their desired route. This stoppage
incited the crowd to violence including rock throwing. By
1630, RSO received the first reports of tear gas launches.
As the main body of the crowd began to flee from the gas, a
senior Shi'a leader and march organizer, Shaikh Isa Qassim,
was reportedly knocked down and injured.

4. Shaikh Isa Qassim's injury apparently incited the crowd
to higher levels of violence. By 1700, the momentum had
shifted to the protesters, who charged and dispersed the riot
police. Moments later, RSO received reports that a group of
hooligans had commandeered a police vehicle (Land Rover
Defender), overturned it, and set it afire. Chaos and
violence followed for the next thirty minutes until the riot
police regrouped at around 1730. Additionally at 1730, Al
Wefaq leader, Shaikh Ali Salman, addressed the frenzied crowd
and called for control and an end to the violence. Between
the riot police re-deployment and Shaikh Ali Salman's
appeals, the violence subsided and calm was restored by 1800.

5. On Saturday, 05/22/04, local newspapers were reporting 13
people injured during the demonstration. One daily printed a
photograph of flag-waving youths rejoicing next to the
burning police vehicle. King Hamad was quoted as saying he
was "not pleased" with the violence. At no time was the U.S.
Embassy approached or targeted by this group of protesters.

6. COMMENT: Post is not at all surprised by the violence
that erupted at this demonstration. As we have seen during
the last several planned "peaceful" marches, there is
consistently an element in these crowds intent on engaging
the police and inciting violence. RSO believes that
trouble-makers from previous demonstrations are neither
detained beyond a few days nor punished beyond a nominal BD
50.000 fine (about USD $133.00). This apparent lack of
punishment has encouraged repeat offenses. Also, Post
harbors genuine concern about potential future
demonstrations. When influential Shiite leaders call for
action, the Bahraini Shi'a majority (approx. 80 per cent)
feel obligated to comply. END COMMENT.
NEUMANN

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