REFILE-Bahrain says bans rallies to prevent violence

Tue Oct 30, 2012 1:12pm GMT

DUBAI Oct 30 (Reuters) - Bahrain has banned all rallies and gatherings to ensure public safety and prevent violence, the state news agency reported, following more than a year of protests by opposition demonstrators.

The Sunni-ruled island kingdom, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, has seen repeated protests since an uprising led by its Shi'ite majority for political reforms that began in February 2011 was crushed with help from Saudi troops last year.

"It has been decided to stop all gatherings and marches and not to allow any activity before being reassured about security and achieving the required stability in order to preserve national unity," state news agency BNA quoted Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa as saying late on Monday.

"Any marches or gatherings will be dealt with as unlicensed and legal procedures will be taken against those calling for or participating in them," he added.

Sheikh Rashed said the violence that had accompanied marches and gatherings in the kingdom had disrupted traffic, affected trade and the economy and damaged private property.

He said march organisers, including the leading opposition party Wefaq, had failed to control protesters in the past.

The Gulf Arab state has banned a series of protests organised by Wefaq in past months. A senior official said in July that the government had no plans to ban rallies outright, but wanted to ensure they did not turn violent.

The opposition described the bans on Wefaq marches as an attempt to silence them. Amnesty International also criticised the bans as a violation of fundamental rights.

Since April the authorities have stepped up efforts to crack down on unrest. Activists cite an increased use of shotgun pellets, whose use authorities have declined to confirm or deny.

Activists have been sentenced to jail in past months for organising or taking part in unlicensed anti-government protests.