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Unrest in US ally Bahrain takes a more violent turn

Shiite protesters in Bahrain have begun using Molotov cocktails, while Sunni hard-liners also are urging more extreme measures. 

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Tear gas fired by riot police lands near antigovernment demonstrators Thursday, Feb. 16, in Musalla, Bahrain, on the edge of the capital of Manama. Security remained tight in Manama and Shiite villages, with clashes between antigovernment protesters and riot police in several areas.

Hasan Jamali/AP

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After a year of civil unrest in Bahrain that has left scores of people dead and pitted neighbor against neighbor, street protests this week in Manama underscored fears that the country's internal divide is entering a more violent phase that could make reconciliation all but impossible in the foreseeable future.

Many analysts like Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, say there are serious concerns that the situation could become a frozen conflict, with all sides withdrawing deeper into hard-line positions.

“There’s a danger that the polarization of Bahraini society has torn out the middle ground and it’s also destroying social fabric,” says Mr. Coates-Ulrichsen.

Slow political reform and continual raids on opposition communities by security forces have already led some antigovernment activists to abandon peaceful demonstrations for more violent, underground action.

Dozens of police officers were injured and several hospitalized in the run-up to the Feb. 14 anniversary of Bahrain's uprising, after angry youths pelted them with stones, metal projectiles, and Molotov cocktails.

Many frustrated young people have vowed to continue carrying out similar attacks.

“Our sisters are getting raped, our brothers are getting killed, and our fathers are in prison getting humiliated and beaten to death," said a 15-year-old Bahraini who admitted to resorting to violence, but wished to remain anonymous for security reasons. “Riot police are shooting us in our homes with teargas while we are sleeping. We don’t have an army, we don’t have guns to defend ourselves, but we have Molotov [cocktails].”

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