Inspired by the movement behind Egypt’s military coup, anti-government activists seeking more influence in Bahrain are hoping to gain new momentum by calling for nationwide protests Wednesday. Authorities warned they will “forcefully confront” any large demonstrations, raising fears of more violence in the strategic Gulf kingdom.
Concrete barriers lined major streets in the capital, Manama, and security checkpoints surrounded by barbed wire guarded roads leading to the city from majority Shiite neighborhoods that house many of the protesters. Hundreds of security forces in riot gear stood guard near armored personnel carriers around what used to be Pearl Square, the epicenter of weeks of anti-government rallies that were met with a crackdown in 2011.
“Based on what we are following in the field, the government violence against protesters is inevitable,” said Hussain Yousif, a spokesman for the group organizing the rallies. “But we need to go ahead and show the world and the government that the Bahraini people have the right to express their political demands.”
The island nation with a native population of more than 550,000 has been gripped by near nonstop turmoil and increasingly divided along sectarian lines since February 2011, when Shiites inspired by the Arab Spring wave of revolutions began an uprising calling for a greater political voice in the Sunni-ruled country.