World Popular Resistance Clippings 2/15/2013

Забастовка водителей муниципальных автобусов в Тбилиси

Rail workers on strike in Khashuri

TBILISI, DFWatch–Around 800 rail workers in Khashuri in central Georgia went on strike Wednesday,demanding increased salaries and to restore benefits which they used to have years ago.

There are no staff available on the railway section between Zestaponi further west and Gori closer to Tbilisi, but Georgian Railway Ltd assures travelers that the lack of staff in the area will have no consequences for neither passengers nor cargo.

The striking workers say they will make exceptions for emergency situations, but will not be responsible for negative results of their strike.

Zaza Chkoidze, head of the Khashuri Rail Division, said the regional office won’t be able to meet the striking workers until Friday and called on them to get back to work.

Georgian Railway representatives met them Thursday morning for one hour without result.

They offered a pay rise of USD 30. But workers demand it increased from USD 240 to USD 360 and warn if their demands aren’t met, they will paralyze rail traffic through Georgia by blocking the central line.

The parties agreed to set up a working group which will study the problems of employees and ways to improve their situation.



Tunisia: Labour and the capital

Trade unions, representing about 30 percent of the labour force, have been protesting against the ruling Ennahada party. Protests are continuing into their second week in Tunisia’s capital and the towns of Sousse and Gafsa, where Tunisians are making clear that the murder of left-wing opposition leader Chokri Belaid will not be quickly forgotten.

The charismatic head of the Democratic Patriots Party and government critic was shot four times in the head and neck outside his home on February 6, sparking a wave of demonstrations against the ruling Ennahda party, who many are blaming for Belaid’s death. The murder has initiated a political crisis in Tunisia with both President Moncef Marzouki’s Congress for the Republic party on one side, and the Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali on the other, threatening to resign from government if their competing programmes for stabilising the country are not put in place.

Union power

In perhaps the most striking response to Belaid’s murder, the country’s largest trade union, the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), called a general strike that brought the nation to a stand-still, from the phosphate mines of the south to Tunis’s Westernised Avenue de France. Unionisation in Tunisia is generally high, with peak figures in the industrial production sector, which accounts for more than 30 percent of GDP. The UGTT claims total membership of around half a million workers in a country with a population of 10.6 million.

In the poorer South – particularly in the mining town of Gafsa – trade unions are particularly active. Resistance against the January appointment of Ennahda members to key positions in the largest mining plants is ongoing. During the mass protests that led to President Zine Abedine Ben Ali fleeing in the 2011 Jasmine revolution, the unions gave up their long-term support for Ben Ali. After criticism from within their own ranks, unions joined the opposition.

Building on their experiences leading precursor protest movements in 2008 and 2010, the unions provided an organisational structure that helped make the scale and persistence of the demonstrations possible. “Since Tunisia’s independence, the labour movement served as a rare legal conduit for expressing dissent… It played a key role in sustaining the 2011 protest movement, which it framed as rooted in economic grievances,” according to congressional researcher and Africa analyst Alexis Arieff.

This history of dissent in Tunisia, from independence in 1956 to Ben Ali’s departure in 2011, is well-known across the North African country. But the labour movement is by no means universally popular. For all its influence, the unions failed to win significant parliamentary representation in the 2012 constitutional elections. Tunisia’s religious right have long opposed its programmes, in some cases by violence. In February 2012, the International Trade Union Congress reported that UGTT regional offices in Bou Salem, Ben Gardane, and Jendouba were burned down by Salafi groups, which labelled the organisation an “enemy of God”.

‘Escalating violence’

“Violence against union members is escalating in our country, and one of the aims of our strike was to send a message to stop such violence,” Sassi Nasseddine, a senior member of the UGTT told Al Jazeera. “We have repeatedly asked the government to investigate attacks, but until now there have been no results. No one has been brought to trial, so there is anxiety and anger within the unions that those who use violence are not being brought to justice.”

Some have pointed to the “leagues for the protection of the revolution”, as an example of a group supportive of Ennahda that engages in political violence, and disruption against centres of secular opposition like the unions. In the case of Lofti Naqdah, a regional leader of the secular Nida Tounes party, accusations against ultra-religious groups have reached the level of murder.

An autopsy released just prior to Belaid’s murder confirmed that Naqdah had been attacked by government supporters, contrary to the government line that he died of a heart attack. Said Chebli, head of the Tataouine League, was implicated in the killing. ”These people work in the name of Ennahda. They are people from Ennahda, close to Ennahda, former convicts hired by Ennahda, and people whose consciences Ennahda bought,” said Jilani Hammami, a member of the Workers party.

A spokesperson for the UGTT told Al Jazeera that in December their annual event commemorating the assassination of the union’s founder, Farhat Hached, was attacked by assailants the union allege to be Ennahda hardliners.

Ennahda denies any official connection between the party and the leagues for the protection of the revolution and has repeatedly denied sanctioning any attacks on activists or trade unions. In a statement published on the party’s website, Sabhi Atiq, President of the Ennahda parliamentary group, said the party supports the “legitimacy of union activity” and condemned the attack on the Hached commemoration event. “As a principle, Ennahda is against all violence,” Zoubair Chhoudi, an Ennahda spokesperson, told local news site Tunisia Live. The UGTT said they would continue to pursue justice for attacks against them using all available political processes.

Expanding power

The union movement has found its reach extending even to places where it was not well represented prior to 2011, supporters said. Tunisia’s Internal Security Forces were historically a central arm of dictatorial power, and are still an inescapable part of daily life. Military troops and armoured vehicles behind barbed wire permanently surround the statue of the great philosopher Ibn Kaldun on Tunis’s central Avenue Habib Bourguiba.

But with the sector’s recent unionisation, the security forces have begun to experience a level of independence, and an accompanying desire to become a properly neutral professional force. This once again puts the unions in conflict with the government. At a police union meeting in January, members angry with interference from the top of the Interior Ministry, de rigeur in the old regime, even called for the resignation of Ennahda Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh.

“Unionisation of the security forces was a radical concept for Tunisia,” explains Monica Marks, an Oxford University Middle East Studies doctoral candidate based in Tunis. “The idea of injecting more independence into the security forces, like unions or civilian oversight, is anathema to many of the old guard still working within the Interior Ministry. The UGTT also represents a significant base of oppositional power, and this threatens Ennahda.” Marks made clear that the Interior Ministry, like many of Tunisia’s government departments, is a complex institution, and far from fully under Ennahda control. Nonetheless, she added: “the government is increasingly seeing the unions as an adversarial political force bent on a mission of attacking them.”



Social unrest erupts in northeastern Colombia over mining

Some 2,000 locals from the northeastern department of Arauca clashed with police this week after protesters blocked the entrance to four oil fields to protest what they consider a neglect by the Colombian government and the multinational oil companies active in the region.

Journalist Emiro Goyeneche of the local Sarare Stereo radio station told Colombia Reports the protesters have clashed with riot police and the army in the Saravena municipality after blocking access to the Caño Limon, Coveñas and Cari Care oil fields, as well as the Bicentinario pipeline. Videos published on YouTube show clashed between locals and riot police. According to Goyeneche, the Colombian army has also been involved the break up a blockade carried out by locals since February 12.

“The people don’t want to fight,” Goyeneche said, adding that violence that erupted was started by the authorities. “But the people had to defend themselves.” According to the journalist, the violence that erupted days ago has a decades-long history.

“For 30 years multinationals have been mining in Arauca,” said Goyeneche, adding that the local population is fed up with the lack of prosperity and public services the extraction of fossil fuels in their region have brought despite promises by government and the oil companies active in the region. “The people want social investment, like healthcare, education and the creation of jobs,” said the journalist who in the past has received extensive protection over death threats.

While the national government and the oil companies have promised to invest in the region, the journalist said these promises were never kept. President Juan Manuel Santos told state radio that the protests were illegal. “Moreover there are accusations that these organizations are supported by guerrilla groups,” he said. Santos is expected to travel to Arauca on Saturday to assess the situation and meet with the locals.



Railway workers protest against hike in utility bills

LAHORE – Pakistan Railway Employees (Prem) Union Senior Vice President Sheikh Mohammad Anwar has said that successive governments and Railways Ministry are held responsible for ruining of Pakistan Railways as department is being made bankrupt in a planned manner. He was addressing Railways workers procession taken out against administration here on Thursday at DS Office.

On this occasion, protestors chanted slogans against incumbent government and Railways management. They were carrying black flags, banners and placard. These placards carry slogans like TA do, Kaam Loo; Hike in power and water utility bills unacceptable, etc.. While addressing, Sheikh Mohammad Anwar warned incumbent rulers that they should accept their demands otherwise workers would halt train system across the country. He said that Railways Ministry is acting upon anti-workers policies. He demanded the government and PR concerned authorities to withdraw 1,000pc hike in electricity and water bills. Had government compensate Pakistan Railways’ losses at the time of Benazir martyrdom, department would have not been in such a shamble condition, he added.

On this occasion, Ch Mehmodul Ahad, Qazi Wadood, Haji Abdul Aziz, Dilawar Khan, Gogi Shah, Abdul Jabbar, Iftikhar Ali Khan and Haji Tufail also addressed the rally. They said that it has become almost impossible for PR to pay pension, TA and GPF payments to its employees. They demanded the government to issue a bailout package of Rs 30 billion like it has given to PIA. They appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo moto action against corrupt officials of Pakistan Railways and protect this important and defence-oriented department from complete ruining. Demonstrators marched from DS Office to Boharwala Chowk, enlightened tyres and blocked road for an hour with their sit-in (dharna).



Bangladesh war crimes protest turn deadly

DHAKA – Demands from a mass protest for all war criminals convicted of committing atrocities in Bangladesh’s 1971 independence struggle to be given the death penalty have won the support of millions of Bangladeshis as the demonstration enters its tenth day.

The protest which began on February 5 at the Shahbagh intersection in Dhaka, has spread beyond the capital amid reform demands that include a ban on Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a member of the 18-party alliance that forms the opposition. It was sparked on the same day by a 31-year jail term handed to the party’s general secretary, Abdul Quader Mollah, who was convicted of war crimes that included mass murder and rape.  The demonstration enjoyed the first fruits of success on February 11 when the country’s cabinet gave the nod to a bill that would allow the government to challenge courts over sentences given under the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act.

Protesters at Shahbagh had initially demanded that Mollah be hanged along with other people who committed war crimes in 1971. During the bloody independence most of the top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami collaborated with the Pakistani armed forces to wreak havoc on the Bangladeshi populace. Jamaat, a faction of the original political party in Pakistan, in 1971 officially rejected Bangladesh’s desire to split from Pakistan (at that time was known as West Pakistan).  Jamaat-e-Islami acting secretary general Rafiqul Islam Khan in a press statement released before the February 5 judgement on Mollah, said, “Do not push the country into a civil war by delivering one-sided verdicts against our leaders. If anything happens against Quader Mollah, every house will be on fire.”

Hours after Mollah was sentenced under the country’s International Crimes (Tribunal) Act, a group of bloggers under the platform “Bloggers and Online Activists Network” decided to form a human chain near Shahbagh intersection of Dhaka, one of the busiest junctions in the city. The verdict infuriated millions of Bangladeshis, who were waiting for news of another capital punishment similar to the first historic war crimes verdict on January 21, against Abul Kalam Azad, another war criminal and former Jamaat-e-Islami leader. Azad, who allegedly has fled the country, was tried in absentia for crimes against humanity.  Protesters were joined by thousands of people on February 5, and over the next few days demonstrators from other parts of the country travelled to Dhaka to take part. Most are still at the demonstration site.

The February 5 judgement said that a small number of Bangalees, Biharis, other pro-Pakistanis, as well as members of a number of different religion-based political parties, particularly Jamaat-e-Islami and its its student wing, joined or collaborated with the Pakistan occupation army to resist the formation of an independent Bangladesh, and that most of them committed and facilitated the commission of atrocities in violation of customary international law. Alongside Mollah, other senior Jamaat leaders being tried under the international crimes act, include Delwar Hossain Sayedee and Ghulam Azam.

The Shahbagh protesters are demanding capital punishment for all crimes against humanity in Bangladesh in 1971 when, according to the prosecution during Mollah’s trial, “some three million people were killed, nearly a quarter-million women were raped and over 10 million people were forced to take refuge in India to escape brutal persecution at home, during the nine-month battle and struggle of the Bangalee nation”. Bangladesh, which was then East Pakistan, was being ravaged by military forces from West Pakistan.

The Bangladesh cabinet on February 11 noted protest demands by giving the nod to a bill for the amendment of Section 21 (2) of the ICT Act, which if approved by parliament in its present session would give the government a right to appeal to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against any inadequate sentence or order of acquittal pronounced by the International Crimes Tribunal for any of the accused. The court would then have 90 days to dispose of the appeal or order an acquittal. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in parliament on February 10 that she would do everything to amend the relevant law if there were any weakness in it. The government has not officially said anything about changing Mollah’s verdict once the bill is passed.

Jute and Textiles Minister Abdul Latif Siddiqui has said that a bill seeking to ban the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing would be placed in the current parliament in line with the demand of the ongoing nationwide mass movement. The minister took part in a three-minute silence on February 12 to demand the death penalty of war criminals.  Back at the Shahbagh intersection, protesters are keeping the demonstration alive by chanting slogans, burning effigies of war criminals and collecting signatures for petitions, among other means of projecting their grievances.

“Dhaka university film associations are screening films, there are people singing songs, reciting poetry; it’s an exhilarating experience,” Mahbubul Haque Bhuiyan, a recent post-graduate student in journalism from Dhaka University who joined the protest on day one, told Asia Times Online. “Till now, the bloggers have been able to keep the protests free from politics.”  Other protesters said that attempts by politicians from the ruling Awami League (AL) to steer the protests to their advantage were ongoing.

Top AL leaders, including the deputy leader of the parliament Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, Forest and Environment Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud, and Post and Telecommunications Minister Sahara Khatoon, tried to speak, only to be heckled by the crowd. On February 7, protesters hurled stones and empty water bottles at special assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and joint AL general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif, forcing him to leave the protest site.

Protesters have also told Asia Times Online that activists from the ruling party’s student wing, Bangladesh Chhatra League’s (BCL), have been trying to take control by paying the tabs, providing food, and steering protests inside the Dhaka University campus and other ways. “But we hope to keep the protests entirely neutral till the end,” said a blogger from the BOAN, who did not want to be identified.  People outside of the capital city as well as non-resident Bangladeshis living in other parts of the world have also demonstrated solidarity with the Shahbagh movement, with protest pictures posted online.

While sharing similarities to Arab Spring protests and the recent sit-in in Islamabad, the Shahbagh protests have some distinctive features. Dr Fahmidul Haq, associate professor of mass communication and journalism department of the University of Dhaka, said, “In regard to Arab Spring and others, we have seen the protesters used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to continue their protests but here the protest has been called by a group of bloggers.”  The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) remarked on Tuesday that the “rally is losing neutrality” due to a liberation war-era slogan being chanted again and again. The slogan “Joy Bangla” has been associated with the ruling AL since 1971. However, BNP welcomed the youth movement.

While these events are breathing down Jamaat-e-Islami’s neck, the party has already termed the protests “a government plot to create anarchy” and force the tribunals to “deliver verdicts as per its dictate.”  Skirmishes occurred between Jamaat activists and police in Dhaka’s Tejgaon, Karwan Bazar and Motijheel areas and other parts of Bangladesh, on Tuesday and Wednesday and also in different parts of the country on Thursday.



SL military operatives attack peaceful protest against Jaffna SMZ

More than ten Sri Lankan military operatives, co-mingling with and camouflaging as protestors in front of Thurkkai Amman temple in Thellippazhai, where a token fast against Colombo converting the former SL Miltiary High Security Zone (HSZ) into Sinhala Military Zone (SMZ) in Jaffna, attacked the peaceful protestors on Friday. The attack came after the SL Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe had left the site taking part and addressing the protestors.

The SL military men went amok on Tamil parliamentarians and journalists at the site of the protest. However, the attackers who were causing panic among the participants were confronted by the protestors. More than one hundred SL policemen silently watched the unfolding episode without restraining or arresting the civil clad military operatives.

Confronted by 700 people at the site, the 10 attackers escaped through KKS Road while some of them, nabbed and handed over to the SL police by the protesters, were released to the SL military in front of the public.

A journalist of Uthayan Daily was attacked by the SL military when he approached the SL military vehicles giving protection to the attackers.  The token fast, organised by groups representing the uprooted Tamils from Valikaamam North, began at 8:30 a.m. and saw the participation of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Tamil National Peoples Front (TNPF), Democratic Peoples Front (DPF), United National Party (UNP) and representatives of leftist parties now collaborating with UNP against the Rajapaksa regime in Colombo.

Despite the attempt by ‘regime change’ forces to hijack the struggle of the Eezham Tamils and project it as a struggle against ‘Mahinda Brigade’ diverting the crux of the SL military driven corporatism creating Sinhala colonies in the country of Eezham Tamils and the structural genocide being committed on the nation Eezham Tamils, the representatives of the uprooted people from the former SL military High Security Zone (HSZ), now being converted into Sinhala Military Zone (SMZ), projected the peaceful token fast to highlight the plight of the uprooted people who now fear that their lands are lost forever to Sinhala colonisation.

The elected representatives of the civic bodies in the district also took part in the fast, which saw participation of a large number of people who braved the harrasments by the occupying SL military.

Not all the Tamil politicians were seen with Ranil Wickramasinghe at the site of the token protest as Mr Wickramasinghe projected the Sinhala militarisation as different and distinct from the land grab taking place in many parts of the island. Wickramasinghe, who said he was opposed to High Security Zone, however, defended the presence of SL military garrison. He said the SL military base could be strengthened without the High Security Zone. The people in North and South should join together to send ‘Mahinda Brigade’ home, he told the participants of the protest.  Tension prevailed in Thellippazhai throughout the day.


Protest gegen Zwangsraeumung in Kreuzberg

Forced Out: A Berlin Family’s Eviction Sparks Violent Protest

Violent protests broke out in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood on Thursday after a Turkish family was forced to leave their apartment for refusing to pay higher rent. Cars were set ablaze and demonstrators scuffled with police. The long simmering conflict reveals continued tension over the city’s rising rents.

By the time police escorted the Gülbol family out of their apartment, shortly before 9 a.m. on Valentine’s Day, protestors had been gathering on the streets for hours. People from around Germany turned out in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood to show their support for the Turkish family and to try to hinder their eviction.

About 500 people turned out to protest during the day — one which ended with 15 cars burned out, four more overturned and the windows of a nearby bank shattered by stones. About 400 police came out to contain the demonstrators occasionally using pepper spray to keep the crowds at bay. A helicopter circled the area to get an overview of the chaos as it moved southeast into the Neukölln neighborhood. By the end of the day 10 police personnel were injured and 10 demonstrators arrested.

It was a day almost six years in the making. The Gülbol family moved into the 122-square-meter (1,313-square-foot) apartment in 1999. The 41-year-old Ali Gülbol says that at the time he had a verbal agreement with his landlords not to raise the rent. He didn’t need the deal in writing because his own landlords told him that, “they always did that in Kreuzberg,” Gülbol, a painter, told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Rent Hike

But six years later the landlords were forced to sell the building to a new owner, who in 2007 raised the rent by almost hundred euros to €715 ($956) a month. Gülbol refused to pay the higher rate, citing his verbal agreement and pointing to €20,000 in renovations he had put into the apartment.

Gülbol took the matter to court. The case wound its way through the system reaching ever higher courts, but in the end the family lost and Berlin courts ordered them to pay 40 months worth of rent increases. Gülbol says that he paid, but it turned out to be too late. He told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that neither his lawyer nor the court told him that he had to pay the amount within two months.

The Gülbol family’s new landlords said that the late rent payment was grounds for eviction and in August 2012 the Berlin court agreed. On Thursday they were forced to leave.

No Longer Taboo

The case mobilized left leaning groups from around the country who oppose the impact that higher rents around the country are having on low income families. In Berlin the issue is particularly pronounced. Residential real estate prices shot up 32 percent since 2007, as the city attracts ever more people. The city’s rock bottom rent prices are now as much a part of history as the wall that once divided it. Still, rents in the city remain relatively affordable compared to other European capitals, but rapidly climbing prices have pushed long-time Berlin families out of their homes and away from the city center.

The protests against the Gülbol case “make it clear that this is about a show of power against all people who are no longer prepared to idly put up with driving people with low incomes out of their neighborhood,” Halina Wawzyniak, a Left Party politician who represents the Kreuzberg neighborhood, told daily newspaper Berliner Zeitung.

Though the Gülbol family wasn’t able to stay in their apartment, the protest proved a point, said Sara Walther from the Bündnis Gegen Zwangsräumung — or Alliance Against Forced Evictions — to the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Forced evictions are not taboo anymore in society,” she told the paper. Even though she says that she has nothing against wealthier new people moving to the neighborhood, one should not “systematically throw old renters out of their apartments.”



Teen killed in Bahrain as protests mark anniversary of uprising

Clashes erupted in Bahrain early Thursday, leaving a teenager dead and tensions soaring as protesters marked the second anniversary of the continued uprising against the Persian Gulf monarchy. Bahraini police said a young man was fatally injured as officers fired birdshot to defend themselves from hundreds of what they termed “rioters” who attacked police with steel rods and Molotov cocktails. Police fired warning shots before shooting, Public Security Chief Tariq Hassan said.

The opposition countered that the youth was the latest victim of “the brutal and inhumane practices” of police against peaceful protesters. Government forces “targeted” the 16-year-old at close range, seriously injuring his stomach, the Wefaq opposition party said in a statement Thursday.The warring accounts of how the teen lost his life in the village of Daih are the latest sign of the profound divisions roiling Bahrain, where protesters continue to agitate for greater democracy and more political voice for Shiite Muslims in a nation ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy.

For protesters, “the situation is exactly where it was two years ago,” said Maryam Khawaja, acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. “The number of people taking to the streets is massive. And the oppression is continuing in the same way.”Bahraini police later said that a policeman had also died late Thursday after being hit by a “projectile” shot by rioters in the village of Sehla. The attack is being investigated, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The eruption of demonstrations two years ago was met with rubber bullets, tear gas, torture and arrests. At least 35 people died in connection with the unrest and the ensuing police crackdown over the course of two months, according to an independent report later commissioned by the government. Bahraini activists say scores more were killed by government forces in later months, including 13 children. The king promised reform after the independent report was released, spurring new training for police, investigations into alleged abuses and other changes. Human rights groups and activists charge that despite talk of progress, torture and repression have continued.

Some police officers have been tried over the killings, but higher officials have not been held accountable, rights groups say. Dissidents have been jailed solely for expressing their views or going to peaceful marches, Amnesty International said Thursday, calling the detainees “prisoners of conscience.”State officials, in turn, charge that protesters have violently attacked police and sought to destabilize the country. Bahraini officials have accused Iran of stirring up the unrest, despite the fact that the independent report found no evidence that Tehran stoked the protests.

Renewed talks suggest a glimmer of hope: The government launched a national dialogue with the opposition on Sunday, which Wefaq has joined in despite its suspicions.

The dialogue aims “to resolve the political deadlock in Bahrain,” Mariam Zainal of the state Information Affairs Authority wrote in an email to The Times. Government officials, lawmakers and political societies “were all invited to take part with no ceiling on the topics to be discussed regarding political reform.” However, many activists remain skeptical that the meetings will produce any real change, and some radicalized factions have sworn off any dialogue at all. Chants against the talks were reportedly heard in the streets Thursday. Divisions between Sunnis and Shiites appear to be deepening, one expert warned.

In universities, “Shiites and Sunnis are sitting in different areas in class. Some restaurants are now segregated.… The kind of sectarian language used on Twitter and in chat groups is shocking,” said Geneive Abdo, a fellow in the Stimson Center Middle East program. “Many Bahrainis will tell you there was never this kind of public sectarianism before the uprisings began.”

Government officials heralded Thursday as the anniversary not of the protests, but of the National Action Charter, an earlier blueprint for reform that banned torture and enshrined freedom of belief as a right. The charter was “a turning point in the kingdom’s history that laid the foundation for innumerable positive developments,” Zainal wrote.

However, opposition activists complain those promises were not carried out either — one reason the 2011 protests were timed for a decade after Bahrainis voted on the charter. As protests head into their third year, experts say it’s unclear what could turn Bahrain around. Some activists argue the United States could do more to prod its strategic ally toward reform. Khawaja said the U.S. and other powers could halt arms sales to Bahrain and sanction officials implicated in abuses, freezing their assets and banning them from getting visas.

“When the government feels there will be consequences, they might actually stop,” Khawaja said. Others have suggested the U.S. float the idea of moving the Navy’s 5th Fleet elsewhere in the Gulf. Some are dubious that would work, while others say it just isn’t a realistic possibility, since the U.S. is unlikely to jeopardize any ties to Bahrain while Iran is still seen as a regional threat.

In Washington, “the sense is that maintaining a united political front in the gulf is going to be paramount – and that trumps considerations about democratic reform in Bahrain,” said Charles Dunne, director of the Middle East program at Freedom House, which denounces the crackdown. “We seem to think we need the Bahrainis more than they need us – which is simply not true.” The stalemate is unlikely to ease unless the Bahraini government makes major changes, Abdo said. Even if it does, “the sectarianism may not evaporate,” she said.

As protests continued to rage Thursday, Wefaq issued a statement saying that “tens” of people were injured by birdshot and grenades. Bahraini police said several officers were also wounded in clashes with protesters, some so severely that they had to be taken to the hospital. An investigation has already been launched into the death of the teenager, said Hassan, the public security chief.,0,1018530.story





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