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Bahrain Police Disperse Rallies With Tear Gas

VOA News February 14, 2011

Bahrain's security forces have fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, a day after police tightened security around Shi'ite villages throughout the island.

Authorities moved against demonstrators in several villages Monday. Opposition groups declared it to be a "Day of Rage" to protest what they see as a lack of democratic reform by the minority Sunni rulers of the Gulf island state.

A day earlier, police dispersed a group of youths who staged a protest in the Shi'ite village of Karzakan. One youth suffered gunshot wounds. Bahrain's Interior Ministry said police came under attack in the village.

Protesters used social media websites to organize Monday's rallies to coincide with the 10th anniversary of a national referendum on political reforms proposed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Bahraini opposition groups complain that those reforms have failed to deliver true democracy for the country's three-quarters of a million people. Bahrain's majority Shi'ite community also has long complained of discrimination by the al-Khalifa family under the constitutional monarchy.

King Hamad has made several gestures to the public in recent weeks to try to defuse the planned protests. Earlier this month, his government granted each Bahraini family $2,600 in cash and increased food subsidies.

The Bahraini government also pledged Sunday to expand press freedom by limiting state controls over the media industry.

Bahrain is a small oil producer that holds important strategic value for the West as the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

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