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MARCH 25, 2004

More trouble in Bahrain

More than 200 demonstrators yesterday attacked the US Embassy compound in Manama, shouting "Death to America and Israel" and pelting the facility with rocks. The attack, which caused no damage, was broken up by riot police using tear gas and batons. Tension is high in the Middle East following the killing of Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin last weekend. Yassin was leaving a mosque near his house in Gaza City when he was hit by a missile fired from an Israeli helicopter gunship. Sheikh Yassin, who was in a wheelchair, founded Hamas in 1987.

The attack on the US Embassy in Manama was condemned by various governments in the Middle East as being "irresponsible".

The US Embassy in Manama has not been attacked since April 2002 when thousands of rioters attacked the building and set cars on fire, protesting the war in Iraq and demanding an end to Bahrain's close links with America.

Bahrain's government is stepping up security in preparation for the first Formula 1 Grand Prix in the Middle East on April 4.

"All eyes are on Bahrain and the authorities are not sparing any efforts on the security of the event or the country," an anonymous spokesman for the Bahrain race track told the Reuters newsagency.

A week ago around 100 fanatics stormed a French restaurant in Manama and set fire to it because it was selling alcohol. Although an Islamic state, Bahrain is much more liberal than all of its neighbours but there is growing opposition from hardline fundamentalists.