Bahrain bans protests in new crackdown
Bahrain has banned all rallies and demonstrations following months of protests by anti-government activists who have been pressing for a greater political voice since the Arab spring revolts began early last year.
In an announcement by the official Bahrain News Agency, Lieutenant General Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, who is the interior minister, said political opposition activists had abused what he called the government's tolerance for freedom of expression by allowing protests to turn violent repeatedly.
"It was decided to stop all rallies and gatherings until ensuring that security is maintained ... to protect national unity and social fabric to fight extremism," the news agency said.
It quoted the minister as saying "any illegal rally or gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for it and participants".
Bahrain, a Persian Gulf kingdom ruled by a Sunni-led monarchy, has been roiled by protests and violence because of tensions with the Shiite majority, who have been seeking more power.
The Bahraini authorities have been criticised by international rights groups for previous crackdowns on opposition activists, the prosecution of medical workers who have aided wounded activists, and the heavy and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other weapons, including birdshot, to dispel protesters.
More than 50 people have died, including some police officers, in nearly 21 months of intermittent clashes in Bahrain.
The protests intensified last month after riot police clashed with mourners at a funeral procession for a teenager killed in an earlier bout of street violence.
With Bahrain home to the US Navy's 5th fleet, Washington has been put in the uncomfortable position of supporting Bahrain's government because of its strategic value in relation to Iran.
Critics have called such US backing an act of hypocrisy.