- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

MANAMA, Bahrain — Police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of Shi’ite Muslims demonstrating in Bahrain yesterday, but the angry crowd broke through the police blockade and continued its march to protest fighting between U.S. forces and Iraqis in the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Thousands of demonstrators dressed in white shrouds — a symbol of their readiness to die — also filled the streets in Lebanon, while about 200 people gathered outside the British Embassy in Iran to protest the actions of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Shi’ite Muslims also staged demonstrations across Pakistan and burned the American flag in the southern city of Karachi, where they tried to march to the U.S. Consulate.

Shi’ite Muslim communities in Lebanon, Iran and Bahrain have been outraged by continued fighting in Karbala and Najaf, which are home to shrines that are among the most sacred in Shi’ite Islam.

In Bahrain, where Shi’ites are a slight majority, more than 4,000 protesters, mostly men, chanted “Death to America,” as they marched in the capital of Manama. One group carried a banner reading: “Our shrines are our lives. Leave them alone.”

The nearly two-mile march had been approved by security authorities, but police tried to stop the demonstrators halfway through. When the crowd became unruly, police fired tear gas, but many protesters continued the march anyway. Some turned over an empty police car and set it on fire. At least five persons were treated for tear gas inhalation, ambulance workers said.

In Beirut, thousands of Shi’ite Muslims wearing white shrouds filled the streets of their neighborhood, carrying Hezbollah flags and chanting, “Death to America. Death to Israel.”

Al-Manar television, run by the militant Hezbollah group that organized the march, estimated the crowd at 200,000.

The demonstration was in response to a call by Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah earlier this week for “a symbolic demonstration to tell America that we are ready for martyrdom to defend our holy places.”

In Iran, where protests have been staged almost daily this week, about 200 protesters outside the British Embassy were outnumbered by police. The crowd, some throwing stones and firecrackers, demanded that the embassy be closed and the ambassador expelled. Police shoved back against the advancing crowd, beating them with sticks.

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