Bahrain fishermen land net victory over king’s cousin



The latest dispute threatened to raise tensions within Bahrain’s majority Shiite community, which continues to feel discriminated against despite reforms introduced by King Hamad, including restoring an elected parliament in 2002.




The long-running feud centred around traps belonging to a cousin of the monarch that had been laid in coastal waters and prevented access to fishing grounds for local fishermen.



"Had it not been for pressure from residents, these illegal fish traps would not have been removed," said one of scores of residents of Al-Malkiya vilage as he watched workers remove the traps set up by the royal relative.



The fishermen’s anger boiled over on Sunday and they tried to remove the traps themselves, sparking clashes with police in the village south of the capital Manama.



King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, who is currently in London, stepped in to defuse the row and ordered the removal of his cousin’s fish traps, Yousef al-Boori, a senior local government official, said on Monday.



"We hope the problem has been resolved. The coast must be accessible to all — it belongs to all," Hassan Ahmad Ali, a 55-year-old fisherman, told AFP.



The conflict between the villagers and the king’s relative first erupted in 2005 when he built a two-kilometre (more than one mile) wall along the coast that hampered the fishermen’s access to fishing grounds.



The move triggered street protests during which police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators. The king also stepped in to settle that row, and the wall was demolished.



A more equitable distribution of wealth was among the demands of Shiite-led protesters in the 1990s, in addition to the reinstatement of parliament, the release of political prisoners and the return of political exiles.



Al-Wasat, a newspaper edited by Mansur al-Jamri, a Shiite former opposition leader who returned to Bahrain from exile in Britain in late 2001, on Tuesday hailed the king’s intervention on behalf of the poor fishermen.



"Al-Malkiya’s victory is a victory for law and rights," the paper headlined.



"Al-Malkiya’s residents won because they insisted on their rights and demanded that the law applies to all… This is not a transient event, but one that will remain engraved in the people’s memory," wrote one of the daily’s columnists.



"Congratulations to the heroes of Al-Malkiya. This is a historic day," one resident enthused on the village’s website.



The Gulf island state of Bahrain is a close ally of the United States, and also hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.


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