Fights break out in Iran

Feb 142011
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

EHRAN and AMMAN, Jordan — Street clashes broke out across the Persian Gulf region on Monday as demonstrators in Iran, Bahrain and Yemen sought to capitalize on the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and swept into the streets, where they were met by riot police.

The tumult in a region normally kept tranquil under the heavy-handed security of conservative Gulf regimes underscored the widening reverberations of new pro-democracy movements in the Middle East, though the protesters’ numbers have been small in comparison with the demonstrations that brought down the government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt last week.

In Iran, thousands of people turned out for Monday’s street march, which marked the first major reformist demonstration since security forces put down widespread protests in December 2009, leaving eight people dead.

The smell of tear gas was in the air in central Tehran from reported clashes near Tehran and Amirkabir universities. Meanwhile, thousands more people who turned out for the main scheduled march were walking quietly along the sidewalks toward Azadi Square as thousands of police looked on.

Those who shouted out slogans such as “Death to the Dictator!” were grabbed by police or plainclothes militia, triggering clashes that in some cases involved young demonstrators beating security personnel. Despite massive police attempts to block access, hundreds of demonstrators made it into Azadi Square by midafternoon.

Along the parade route, about 200 protesters mounted the pedestrian bridge west of Imam Hussein Square and started shouting: “The police support us, the Iranians support us.”

In Bahrain, a small island emirate on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf near Saudi Arabia, riot police began attacking hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and pellets, according to human-rights observers.

Protesters there were not calling for the collapse of the Sunni monarchy, which oversees a nation that is predominantly Shiite. They instead were seeking a new constitution, an investigation into corruption, torture and purported attempts to suppress the Shiite majority by naturalizing new Sunni citizens and the release of up to 500 political prisoners, many of them under the age of 18.

“We call on all Bahraini people — men, woman, boys and girls — to share in our rallies in a peaceful and civilized way to guarantee a stable and promising future for ourselves and our children,” Bahraini activists said in a statement.

“We would like to stress that Feb. 14 is only the beginning. The road may be long and the rallies may continue for days and weeks, but if a people one day chooses life, then destiny will respond.”

At least 14 people reportedly were injured in clashes earlier in the day and on Sunday outside the capital, especially in the area of Karzakan.

Yemen, meanwhile, was undergoing its fourth straight days of protests, with a reported 17 people wounded in two separate clashes between pro-reform demonstrators and pro-government activists, with riot police trying to stand between the two.
Demonstrators were being attacked with broken bottles, daggers and rocks by several hundred government supporters, many waving Yemeni flags and photos of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s president for more than 30 years, who has promised to step down in 2013.

Human Rights Watch complained that police had used electric Tasers against citizens in an attempt to quell the protests.

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