Bahrain people demand U.S. 5th Fleet must leave

  • From: "Muslim-News" <editor@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 10 Apr 2002 12:20:05 +0100

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Muhammad Jumaa, a 24-year-old hospital worker, died
on Sunday, two days after being shot in the head at a demonstration that
penetrated the grounds of the U.S. Embassy, his death feeding a brooding
resentment of the extensive U.S. presence on this Persian Gulf island. 

"America's blind support for Israel and its silence encourage Israel to
kill more Palestinians, just as America did in Afghanistan and Iraq,"
said Ibrahim Abdullah, one of a steady stream of mourners who made their
way to the dead man's dusty grave on the edge of a poor village
populated by Shiite Muslims just north of Manama, the capital. 

The men and women at the graveside echoed the sentiments of thousands of
mourners who marched in the funeral procession earlier in the day. "No
American base in Islamic Bahrain!" they chanted, referring to the U.S.
5th Fleet's headquarters. 

They also demanded that Bahrain expel the U.S. ambassador for what they
consider highly insensitive remarks about the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. 

"The American base is very dangerous here," Abdullah said. "Because of
their presence we feel crippled. They will stand with the government
against the people. They are against Islam. Americans hate Islam." 

Jumaa, by all accounts a quiet man who was engaged to be married in
February, died of internal bleeding two days after he was shot 30 yards
from the embassy. 

There are conflicting reports about whether he was hit by a tear gas
canister or a rubber bullet and whether the fatal shot came from the
embassy itself or was fired by the Bahraini police. 

His family contends that the shot came from the embassy grounds, but in
a brief statement, the U.S. mission here denied that its Marine guards
had shot at any protesters. It said the guards had resorted to tear gas
only after protesters had scaled the walls of the compound, shattering
windows and setting embassy vehicles on fire. 

"In response to this provocation, embassy security personnel fired tear
gas cylinders to compel the intruders to leave the embassy ground," the
statement said. "Embassy personnel did not fire at demonstrators." 

Three leading Muslim clergymen on the island and six of its nascent
political groups issued separate statements on Sunday demanding an
investigation of the episode as well as the expulsion of the ambassador,
Ronald Neumann. 

Neumann had requested that a model U.N. school assembly observe a moment
of silence for Israeli victims of suicide bombings. His suggestion came
after a student asked the assembly to stand to observe a moment of
silence for the Palestinians. 

"While I understand and respect the deeply held anger and frustration
that Bahrainis feel about the events currently taking place in the
region," the ambassador said later in a statement, "it would have been
inappropriate for me to accept being forced into a one-sided
demonstration of respect simply because the conference organization had
called for respect only for one side." The State Department has said it
fully backs his decision. 

But given the raw mood in the Arab world, the message beamed around
Bahrain and indeed throughout the region was that the Americans were
openly siding with the Israelis, even in death. 

"Maybe the ambassador thought what he was doing was fair," said Mansoor
al-Jamri, a former spokesman in exile for the Bahrain Freedom Movement,
an Islamist opposition group, who has come home under a general amnesty.
"But to Muslim people around the world who feel the Americans value them
at less than zero, this sparked everything." 

The public anger was evident in graffiti sprayed on this sleepy island's
usually pristine walls during the funeral march. "Death to Sharon!" some
of them read, and "Down With U.S.A!" along with the more striking "Death
to al-Khalifa!" 

The latter may have referred to Bahrain's emir, Sheik Hamad bin Isa
al-Khalifa, who moved to calm the public mood on Sunday by ordering the
interior minister to begin an immediate investigation of the episode at
the embassy. 

Until now the Bahraini ruler, scion of a minority Sunni Muslim family
that has ruled over the Shiite majority for more than 200 years, has
enjoyed a certain honeymoon with his people. After succeeding his father
in 1999, Hamad pardoned the leaders of the Shiite opposition groups who
fomented unrest on the island and began carrying out political reforms
that will bring the island's first parliamentary elections in more than
two decades this fall. 

The presence of the 5th Fleet headquarters was not an issue here.
Bahrainis were aware that an aircraft carrier and other vessels assigned
to the fleet helped to patrol southern Iraq and supported the fighting
in Afghanistan. 

After an initial public distaste for incidents of drunkenness by sailors
prompted the Navy to introduce more stringent discipline, the Americans
have been popular for the money they bring to myriad businesses. 

"The Saudis who come here just spend their money on Russian girls," said
one Bahraini. "The Americans go to all the shops, the gold market, and
they tend to be polite." 

But political groups began to make the U.S. presence an issue in
February, when they say the Bahraini government made a ham-handed
attempt to intimidate them by warning that they would be placed on U.S.
terrorism watch lists if they fomented trouble at home. 

The U.S. Embassy denied any such prospect. But that incident, followed
by the Israeli offensive in the West Bank and the ambassador's remarks,
suddenly made Americans very much an issue. 

"The people want the government to close the embassy and to remove the
American soldiers from Bahrain," said Hassan Mansour, 30, who visited
Jumaa's grave, decorated with the Palestinian flag and that of the
militant Lebanese group Hezbollah. "They are undesired people here. We
feel very angry." 

Source:  HoustonChronicle.com

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