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Bahrain arrests 40 after week-long protests

Authorities in Bahrain have arrested about 40 people after a week of protests by majority Shi'ites in which one protester died, an opposition group and residents in the Sunni-led kingdom said on Sunday.

world Updated: Dec 24, 2007 03:28 IST

Authorities in Bahrain have arrested about 40 people after a week of protests by majority Shi'ites in which one protester died, an opposition group and residents in the Sunni-led kingdom said on Sunday.

Bahraini media said the unrest peaked in the U.S.-ally on Thursday when 500 demonstrators, angry over the death on Monday of a protester who had inhaled teargas, hurled petrol bombs at police who fired rubber bullets.

Shi'ites complain of discrimination in Bahrain, but the authorities say there is no such thing and cite a shortage of resources in the Gulf Arab region's least wealthy country.

"There have been 42 arrests and their number is accelerating. Masked commandos carried out raids in several areas," a human rights activist, who asked not to be named, told Reuters by telephone. He said the arrests prompted new protests to demand the release of those held.

The Shi'ite-led Haq Movement of Liberties and Democracy has said many of those held are Shi'ite activists and issued a statement with names of 39 men it said had been arrested.
An Interior Ministry official said the detainees were suspected of setting ablaze a police vehicle after taking weapons from it during Thursday's street clashes.

"(Their charges) are criminal and they are not political activists," the official told the state news agency BNA.
Residents said sporadic protests were continuing in the small island state, the Gulf's banking hub.

"Youths in several areas come out and block roads with burning tyres, and that draws a police intervention to clear the road," a resident said.

Violent protests gripped Bahrain during the 1980s and 1990s when Shi'ite demands were met with arrests and expulsions.

Since coming to power in 1999, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has introduced some reforms, including pardoning political prisoners and exiles.