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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Sudan, Bahrain

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  • Zafar Khan
    IRAQ Dozens killed in Iraq car bombing Blast targets potential recruits outside an army base in the town of Taji, north of Baghdad. Last Modified: 06 Nov 2012
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10 7:29 AM

      Dozens killed in Iraq car bombing
      Blast targets potential recruits outside an army base in the town of Taji, north of Baghdad.
      Last Modified: 06 Nov 2012 12:04


      Iraq rocked by wave of deadly Eid attacks
      At least 28 killed in shootings and bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, as Muslims mark second day of Eid al-Adha.
      Last Modified: 27 Oct 2012 20:22


      Iraq limits number of Syrian refugees
      Iraq is limiting the number of refugees coming over the border saying it lacks the security and resources to hold them.
      Last Modified: 15 Oct 2012 19:02


      Iraq records huge rise in birth defects
      New study links increase with military action by Western forces



      Secret cinema gently subverts Saudi Arabia's puritanism
      In a country where culture can be declared sinful and cinemas were shut down in the 1970s, just showing a film can be revolutionary
      David Batty
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 October 2012 18.55 BST


      In a country with no public cinemas and where only a few films have been shown to the public in more than three decades, it is a radical step: a handful of film-makers in Saudi Arabia has launched a secret cinema group, showing their own films that explore social and political issues such as women's rights, the lives of migrant workers, urbanisation and the belief in black magic.

      Last Thursday, after evening prayers, more than 60 people attended the first screening by the Red Wax secret cinema in a large warehouse in the south-western city of Abha. Directed to the clandestine event by text message, they crowded inside the hired space, which was then bolted shut.

      Most sat on cheap red plastic chairs placed in rows before a makeshift screen made from a large white sheet, but as the audience was larger than the organisers had expected, some stood. As the lights dimmed, nervousness gave way to quiet anticipation and in silence they watched a film about the lives of migrant workers on one of the country's major building projects. After the screening the audience discussed the issues it raised and the ban on cinema in the kingdom.

      "I was really nervous; everyone was nervous," said the film's director, one founder of Red Wax. "We didn't have a plan if [police came]. Everyone parked away from the place. We sent them directions by text message to their mobiles or rang them. Our fears are just to get caught or sent to jail."

      Cinemas were shut in the 1970s down after the assassination of King Faisal, who was criticised for introducing television to Saudi Arabia. Religious conservatives consider cultural activities such as films and concerts to be immoral and against Islamic values.

      There were signs of liberalisation with the launch in 2006 of the annual European film festival in Jeddah, which shows films to a select audience in embassies and consulates. The first official Saudi film festival followed in May 2008 in the eastern city of Dammam, although it has not been repeated. Later that year the comedy Menahi, financed and produced by King Abdullah's billionaire nephew Prince Waleed bin Talal's Rotana media, became the first film, apart from a few children's cartoons, to be shown publicly for 30 years when it ran for barely a week in Jeddah and nearby Taif.

      But there was a backlash following its more limited screening in the capital Riyadh, with hardliners issuing a fatwa against cinemas in July 2009 that led the government to ban their construction.

      The collective of five film-makers – four men and one woman – said Red Wax referred to the official stamps used to restrict freedoms in the kingdom, although one member added it is also a strong kind of local cannabis resin. The first event was only open to men, with the audience including students, writers and artists aged from 20 to 40. But women will be invited to future events, scheduled to take place in other cities and organised via social networking websites to attract a wider audience.

      The director of the first film shown said: "Saudi people love cinema. People drive to Bahrain at the weekend just to see films or fly to Dubai. You can see thousands of films on pirate DVDs for $2 or $3. You can download on BitTorrent or see it on satellite TV. You cannot imagine how much filesharing there is.

      "The problem is with some of the religious movements and extremists. They say its haram [sinful] because of the content of the films and people being there communally. But we say it's not haram because cinema is not mentioned in the Qur'an or the Hadith [the sayings and acts of Muhammad]."

      The group said they decided to set up a secret cinema after the authorities cracked down on Saudi film-makers who posted work on YouTube which, according to Al-Arabiya, receives as many as 90m page views from the kingdom every day.

      Feras Bugnah, a video blogger, was arrested and detained for two weeks last year after posting a film about poverty in Riyadh on the site, which attracted more than 800,000 views. "On YouTube they always watch you and restrict the page," said another Red Wax founder. "Secret cinema is Banksy style – no one knows who he is."

      The film-maker denied their activities were un-Islamic. Their aim, they said, was both to stimulate grassroots film production and a critical audience. "The films should be made by people here [to give] more freedom of expression to our community. It's [about] our daily life, our struggle against all these banning forces, not to be free to say what we want. We need to reach average people so we can raise the level of awareness. It's not provocative, it's more real. If I make a film, I need an audience. It's not interesting if a film is not showing inside [the kingdom] because not all Saudis can travel abroad."

      The next film to be screened explores women's rights and was shot with a camera hidden in a black abaya robe. Another looks at the belief in black magic. The director said: "It's restricted in Islam to go to a wizard but it's really common because a lot of people believe it is more than medicine.

      "One of my friend's brothers was in hospital with a liver infection and people told him to buy a black rooster and pour its blood on his body."

      Haifaa al-Mansour, whose first feature film Wadjda was shown in the 2012 London film festival, said the secret cinema showed there was a desire in the country for young people to come together and tell their stories and raise issues through film. When she shot her film in the kingdom, despite opposition from conservatives, "a lot of people wanted to be extras." But she added: "It might be more difficult and take more time but it's important to work within the system to see real change."

      Mansour said the lack of a public audience made it difficult to produce films in the kingdom.

      "The funding is very difficult because a lot of people don't know what to do with a film from Saudi Arabia. How politically will it be placed? Where's it going to show? So they'd rather give money to film-makers in Lebanon and Egypt. It's very frustrating."

      Mona Deeley, a producer for Cinema Badila: Alternative Cinema on BBC Arabic TV, said: "The secret cinema is an interesting initiative for both subverting the ban on cinema and as a form of civil and cultural resistance."

      Egyptian writer and curator Omar Kholeif, director of the UK's Arab Film Festival, also gave a cautious welcome to the secret cinema: "I would personally question what real impact a 'secret' cinema event could have – after all, it is secret. In spirit, and in ethos, I think it is to be applauded, but what I would really like to see is how this group could intervene publicly – to mount a true act of subversion."


      Rival militias clash in Libyan capital
      Five people injured as rival militia groups clash for hours outside a state security building in Tripoli.
      Last Modified: 04 Nov 2012 18:04


      Libyans protest Bani Walid gunfight
      Hundreds of protesters accuse the government of killing civilians.
      Last Modified: 22 Oct 2012 06:27


      A year after Gaddafi's death, rebel hero is abandoning hope for peace in Libya
      When Muhsen al-Gubbi entered the dictator's palace, he thought the war was over. But he is still waiting for it to end
      Chris Stephen in Misrata
      The Observer, Sunday 21 October 2012


      One year ago Libyan rebel fighter Muhsen al-Gubbi shot to international fame after marking the capture of Muammar Gaddafi's compound by draping a pair of the dictator's underpants over one of his prized works of art.

      In a remarkable account for the Observer of the ferocious battle for the dictator's Bab al-Aziziya palace in Tripoli, al-Gubbi recorded the horror of seeing comrades slain, the triumph of liberating his country from 40 years of brutal dictatorship and his decision on the day of liberation to mark it with ridicule by draping Gaddafi's underpants over a sculpture in the palace grounds depicting a steel fist clutching a US fighter plane.

      A year later, he is sadder, wiser and more sanguine about the fate of his country that remains in the grip of violence and chaos.

      This weekend, the anniversary of Gaddafi's capture and blood-drenched execution, the wheel has turned full circle, as ex-rebels, now forming the national army, lay siege to the Saharan town of Bani Walid, last redoubt of the dictator's loyalists.

      When Bani Walid thugs were blamed for the killing of the former rebel who is credited with capturing Colonel Gaddafi on 20 October last year, al-Gubbi joined the brigades from Misrata – the hardest hit of all the rebel towns in last year's war – which were streaming south through the desert to Bani Walid. But he went not to fight, but to urge a halt.

      "The guys just wanted to go in. I said, 'You have to wait until the government makes a decision'." That decision was taken and government units were fighting loyalists for a fifth day yesterday.

      Whatever the outcome at Bani Walid, al-Gubbi says it reveals the continuing division in Libya between the towns that rebelled and those that did not. "Everyone here [in Misrata] knows the war, everyone here lost somebody, his brother, his friend. I lost most of my best friends in the war. What happened in Tripoli? Nothing."

      This bittersweet feeling of liberation mixed with apprehension is common in a country coping with continuing violence, the killing of the US ambassador and economic stagnation. Like many Libyans, he worries that, having won the war, the politicians are losing the peace. "Those in government want to take the money and have the power," he says. "You can take the money, but you have to make something for it. We need everything, we need public buses, we need a railway, we need houses."

      Instead, Libya is again at war.

      Listening to al-Gubbi's war record, it is a miracle that he survived. When Gaddafi's forces sought to crush the Arab spring revolution which broke out in February last year, he found himself on the streets of Misrata battling tanks with a rifle.

      One of his closest calls came via Nato, whose bombs delivered the major blows that brought victory to the rebels. Sneaking up on a loyalist position near Misrata's airport, he heard the whoosh of bombs through the air and threw himself to the ground as the target exploded in front of his eyes. "We were walking like foxes, then we heard this sound, whrrrrr. The bombs hit maybe 300 metres away." When the front line broke, his brigade El Hassam – To The Finish – drove to Tripoli and assaulted Gaddafi's fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound, and again al-Gubbi narrowly escaped being killed by friendly fire.

      He was chasing fleeing Gaddafi soldiers when he came face to face with another rebel unit who did not know him. What saved him was his attire: "I  was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, so those guys said they knew I was Thwar (the Libyan word for revolutionary) – no way could I be a soldier."

      When the compound fell, he went into Gaddafi's bedroom, took a pair of his black underpants and draped them over the sculpture, deciding ridicule was the best way to mark the passing of 42 years of authoritarianism.

      After the fall of Tripoli, his unit drove south to Waddan, and a Nato officer arrived to dispense chemical weapons suits, asking them to search bunkers containing mustard gas to determine if any had been looted.

      Finally, there was the grim assault on Sirte, a coastal city where Gaddafi was born, and where, after being captured, he died, the footage of his bloodied face being one of the most vivid images of Libya's revolution.

      Along the way, al-Gubbi was wounded twice — once smashing his hand after being thrown from a Jeep which lurched under fire, and later seeing a sniper's bullet graze his forearm. The Jeep with a recoilless rifle that he drove in Tripoli had already had four previous drivers killed at the wheel.

      But al-Gubbi is not the image of a tough-talking fighter. Aged 31, he looks younger and talks so quietly that you find yourself asking him to repeat himself.

      The means he has found to forget the war is work, and he has thrown himself into his family's construction and clothes-importing business, with regular business trips to Italy and the Far East. "Before the war I had one kind of life, I was just looking for fun," he says. "Back then, after 8 o'clock at night, that was when my day started. Now that is when my day stops." During the war he expected to be killed, comforted by the declaration in the Qur'an that those who die in a just battle are granted the status of Shaheed, or martyr. "I used to think that I was born to be Shaheed."

      He was not the only one. Faith in the afterlife was the steel in the spine of many rebels, perhaps the only thing that gave them the conviction to withstand tanks and artillery while armed only with light weapons themselves. It is a faith, he insists, that is very different to that of the jihadists, whose black flags were torn down when they launched a parade in Misrata earlier this year.

      Al-Gubbi complains equally about money-grabbing politicians and Islamist parties which he says are trying to tell Libyans how to interpret their faith. He also misses Libya's version of the London blitz spirit. "In the war, all the people in Misrata were like one big family. Now, everyone is looking to his business."

      He has, however, decided to get married, wanting children most of all. And he thinks about the afterlife. "In the holy Qur'an, it says if you are Shaheed you can sit in a good place with the messengers. It says also you can invite 70 of your friends to come with you," he says with a smile. "So I hope at the end, if I am not Shaheed, that my friends will remember to invite me."

      Evidence of mass murder after Gaddafi's death
      A new report suggests anti-Gaddafi militias carried out massacres during Libyan conflict in Sirte.
      Last Modified: 17 Oct 2012 14:34



      The ordinary victims lost in the noise of Beirut's latest big story
      Monday 22 October 2012
      The bombing that killed Lebanon's intelligence chief also claimed the life of a working mother. Robert Fisk reports from Beirut


      They found a part of a hand in rue Ibrahim el-Mounzer today, along with some intestines – no one doubted ownership of the thumb that was discovered, still pressing the button of a mobile phone. But the little people of Lebanon remained forgotten, the bereaved and the wounded, all 38 of them, largely not photographed.
      Gun battles enshrined the streets of central Beirut a day after the nation buried Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan. But the bravest man in Lebanon yesterday stood in a church in the tired suburb of Bourj Hammoud: a young Armenian whose equally young wife was slaughtered last Friday.

      I suppose we scribes always go for the Big Story – the Lebanese intelligence boss blown to bits in the Syria-style bomb assassination. The clichés are essential, as is the assumption that Syria's war is "slipping across the border", but the tragedy of Georgette Sarkissian should be told.

      She was a victim whose life was every bit as precious as that of the man who was buried with such pomp and violence in central Beirut at the weekend. And if serving coffee and apples to bank employees in a narrow east Beirut street was less romantic than that of the Lebanese secret policeman so efficiently liquidated last week, her family story is worthy of a book rather than a newspaper article.

      The General and Georgette died, of course, in the same millisecond.

      Joseph Sarkissian's family came from the Mount of Olives in Palestine and his grandparents were thrown out of Armenia during the 1915 Turkish genocide. He stood next to his 21-year old daughter Therese – who was with her mother when she was killed, and wore a blood-red mascara of spotted wounds on her face that contrasted tragically with her black dress – shaking hands as one must at these awful "condolences", and spoke with such eloquence of his sorrow. In Lebanon, the big men get the imperial funerals, the little women are left to be buried.

      But the biggest man in Lebanon was Joseph Sarkissian, an insurance official, short dark hair, spectacles, no tears in his eyes. In his own words, then, in perfect, flawless English: "I can't tell you… She is half my life. My daughter picked her up from the ground – she carried her in her arms because there were no ambulances, and drove her to the hospital in her own car.

      Gunfights in Lebanon amid simmering tension
      Army vows firm action to curb violence following deaths in the wake of intelligence chief's assassination.
      Last Modified: 22 Oct 2012 21:54


      Lebanese troops launched a major security operation to open all roads and force gunmen off the streets, trying to contain an outburst of violence set off by the assassination of a top intelligence official who was a powerful opponent of Syria. Sectarian clashes killed at least six people.

      Gunfights have broken out in several areas of Lebanon following Sunday's funeral of anti-Syrian intelligence official Wissam al-Hassan, raising fears that his assassination will further destabilise the country.

      On Monday, clashes between Lebanese troops and unidentified armed men took place in Beirut, the capital.

      Several people were wounded after the army made a pre-dawn sweep through the district of Tariq Jdideh in pursuit of armed men, and automatic weapons and anti-tank rocket fire could be heard.

      The worst of the clashes since late Sunday took place in the northern city of Tripoli, the scene of previous fighting between Sunni Muslims backing the Syrian opopsition fighter and Alawites sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

      The two sides exchanged rocket and gunfire, residents said. Among the victims were a nine-year-old girl shot by a sniper.

      Opposition leaders have urged their supporters to refrain from any more violence.

      "We want peace, the government should fall, but we want that in a peaceful way. I call on all those who are in the streets to pull back," former prime minister and opposition leader Saad al-Hariri said on the Future Television channel on Sunday evening from Saudi Arabia, where he has been living for over a year.

      Al Jazeera's Rula Amin reported from Beirut that security officials were very concerned about the heightened tensions.

      "The army's saying that it will act very firmly and concisely to try to confront this phase," she said. "It says Lebanon is going through a very critical time and that tensions have reached unprecedented levels."

      Our correspondent went on to say that protesters have set up camp outside the parliament building in downtown Beirut, but it had generated very little momentum. "It does not have the backing of a lot of the March 14 politicians," she said.

      Opposition calls for 'day of rage' in Lebanon
      Amid anger and grief, ex-PM Saad Hariri urges large turnout at funeral for slain intelligence official Wissam al-Hassan.
      Last Modified: 21 Oct 2012 05:29


      Lebanon blast: Car bombing in Beirut kills eight


      Deadly blast strikes Lebanon's capital
      At least eight people reported to be dead and many others seriously injured by large car bombing in Beirut.
      Last Modified: 19 Oct 2012 15:47



      Kuwait bans gatherings of more than 20 after street clashes
      Decree restricting number of election contenders sparks rare displays of defiance against Gulf state's dynastic rulers
      Martin Chulov
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 October 2012 18.51 BST


      Kuwait's rulers have banned public gatherings of more than 20 people after clashes between riot police and demonstrators over electoral law changes that opposition figures labelled a "constitutional coup".

      The protests on Sunday were among the largest ever seen in the Gulf state. The gathering of more than 20,000 people was dispersed with teargas, a rarity in Kuwait, which sees few displays of open dissent towards its dynastic rulers.

      Opposition figures and their supporters are angry over moves by the government, which is dominated by the western-backed al-Sabah family, to limit the number of candidates permitted to contest a general election called for 1 December. In past elections, up to four candidates could stand in voting districts, but an official decree has limited that number to one.

      The move is thought to be likely to disadvantage opposition groups, who have been energised politically by a series of government crises, most noticeably a corruption scandal earlier this year, and by uprisings in other Arab states.

      An affluent and highly organised society, Kuwait, like other Gulf states, has avoided the ramifications of the so-called Arab spring. Its citizens have some of the highest incomes in the world, and have enjoyed several decades of stability.

      However, some opposition groups are accusing the government of stripping back political freedoms at a time when communities elsewhere in the region are demanding more such liberties.

      Government officials recently said they were wary of "seditious" threats from some members of the opposition, a claim thought to be a reference to Salafist Islamist organisations, which that form a key section of the opposition.

      The al-Sabah family dominates executive power in Kuwait, and its authority has remained unchallenged throughout its reign. But on 15 October, a leading opposition politician, Muallem al-Barrak, in effect warned the emir against changing electoral laws. "We will not allow you, your highness, to take Kuwait into the abyss of autocracy," he said in unprecedented public comments. "We no longer fear your prisons and your baton sticks."

      Kuwait's parliament has barely functioned this year as ever more assertive and confident opposition groups have clashed with government MPs on numerous issues.

      Kuwaitis have throughout remained staunchly protective of their political and consitutional freedoms, and have vowed to continue to challenge the changed electoral laws before the poll.

      Some opposition figures say they are willing to force a showdown with the Sabah family by demanding a fully democratically elected parliament.


      Khartoum fire blamed on Israeli bombing
      Four Israeli aircraft behind attack on factory in Sudan's capital that left two people dead, a Sudanese minister says.
      Last Modified: 25 Oct 2012 08:00


      Sudan has accused Israel of bombing a military arms factory, threatening retaliation after a resulting fire killed two people and injured a third.

      Referring to the attack which occurred at about midnight local time (21:00 GMT) on Tuesday at the Yarmouk military manufacturing facility in south Khartoum, Ahmed Bilal Osman, culture and information minister, said: "We think Israel did the bombing."

      In his comments on Wednesday, he said: "We reserve the right to react at a place and time we choose." Osman said four "radar-evading" aircraft were involved in the attack. It took troops several hours to contain the blaze.

      On Thursday, a top Israeli defence official labeled Sudan a "dangerous terrorist state", following the accusations that his country was responsible for the attack.

      "Sudan is a dangerous terrorist state. To know exactly what happened, it will take some time to understand," Amos Gilad told Israel's army radio.

      Asked directly whether Israel was involved in the attack, Gilad, who serves as director of policy and political-military affairs at the defence ministry, refused to reply directly.

      Undetonated missiles

      Evidence pointing to Israel was found among remnants of undetonated missiles, Osman told Al Jazeera.

      "The people have seen it with their eyes - four planes coming from the east, and we have no enemy other than Israel," Osman said.

      "The type of rockets which we have now - and some of them did not explode - we have the codes, we have seen the planes directly, this is recorded."

      Sudan took its case to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, with Daffa-Alla Elhag Ali Osman, Sudanese ambassador to the UN, calling on the world body to condemn Israel.

      "We reject such aggression and expect your esteemed council to condemn this attack because it is a blatant violation of the concept of peace and security" and the UN charter, he said.

      He also accused Israel of arming rebels and helping to transport rebel leaders in Sudan's Darfur region, where the UN says at least 300,000 people have been killed over the past decade.

      Israel was "jeopardising peace and security in the entire region", he said.

      As Sudan's cabinet met in an emergency session, about 300 protesters gathered nearby, denouncing Israel.

      "The army of Muhammad is returning," they reportedly chanted.

      Retribution pledged

      Osman, the information minister, told Al Jazeera that Israeli officials believed Sudan to be a threat, and was helping to arm opposition rebels.

      "They think that this factory supplies our army, and by attacking it, they are going to make it easier for the rebels to take over," he said.

      "Plus, they have accused us, [saying] that these arms would find their way to Hamas. These are allegations which are not correct."

      He also promised retribution, though ruled out any direct attack on Israel.

      "We have to reply," Osman told Al Jazeera.

      "This is too much. This is the fourth time they have done this. We have our right to attack the interests of Israel wherever - this is a legal target for us from now on ... They killed our people. these lives are not cheap - and we know how to retaliate."

      Al Jazeera's Harriet Martin, reporting from Khartoum, said that although no evidence linking Israel to the fire had been made public, concurrent reports suggest there may be some truth in the accusations.

      "There have been numerous reports from eyewitnesses, saying what initially many people thought was a plane passed over, and then there was a big, white explosion," she said.

      "These reports have come from many different sources [...] and so it does seems something happened before this munitions factory caught on fire."

      Fires flaring across a wide area, with heavy smoke and intermittent flashes of white light bursting above the state-owned factory, were seen from several kilometres away.

      "I heard a sound like a plane in the sky, but I didn't see any light from a plane. Then I heard two explosions, and fire erupted in the compound," a resident who asked to be identified only as Faize told the AFP news agency.

      Hit by shrapnel

      The Yarmouk facility is surrounded by barbed wire and set back about 2km from the district's main road, but at least three houses in the neighbourhood had been punctured by shrapnel which left walls and a fence with holes about 20cm in diameter, AFP news agency said.

      There was also slight damage to a Coca-Cola warehouse.

      Osman said Yarmouk makes "traditional weapons".

      "The attack destroyed part of the compound infrastructure, killed two people inside and injured another who is in serious condition," he said.

      The military and foreign ministry in Israel, which has long accused Khartoum of serving as a base for armed members of the Palestinian group Hamas, told Al Jazeera they had "no comment" regarding the accusation.

      Sudan has a long and difficult relationship with Israel. During two decades of civil war, Israel allied itself with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, which had taken up arms against the government.

      Past incidents

      In 2009, a convoy carrying weapons in northeastern Sudan was targeted from the air, killing dozens of people.

      It was widely believed that Israel carried out the attack on what was supected to be a weapons shipment heading for Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

      Israel never confirmed or denied that attack. Sudanese parliamentarians denied at the time that weapons were transported in the area.

      In 1998, Human Rights Watch said a coalition of opposition groups alleged that Sudan stored chemical weapons for Iraq at the Yarmouk facility but government officials denied the charges.

      In August of that year, US cruise missiles struck the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in north Khartoum, which Washington alleged was linked to chemical weapons production.

      Evidence for that claim later proved questionable.


      Deadly blasts hit Bahrain's capital
      Two foreign workers killed and a third injured as five homemade explosive devices go off in Manama.
      Last Modified: 06 Nov 2012 02:00


      Two foreign workers have been killed in Bahrain's capital Manama after a series of blasts went off, authorities say.

      The interior ministry said at least five homemade explosive devices exploded on Monday and described the blasts as "terrorist acts" - its term for violence by opposition activists.

      The apparently co-ordinated explosions point to escalating levels of violence in the nearly 21-month uprising against the Gulf kingdom's rulers and come less than a week after Bahrain banned all protest gatherings in the country.

      The official Bahrain News Agency said the explosions took place between 4.30am and 9.30am (01:30 and 06:30 GMT) in the Qudaibiya and Adliya districts of Manama.

      One of the attacks occurred outside a cinema, where a street cleaner died when he kicked a package that blew up. The other man died from injuries in a separate blast, officials said, identifying the dead as a 29-year-old Indian and a 33-year-old Bangladeshi. Another Indian man was injured.

      Rights group Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into Monday's attacks. "...those responsible [must be] brought to justice in proceedings that comply with internationally recognised standards for fair trial and with no possibility of the death penalty," a statement said.

      Police have been targeted by explosions several times this year, as the government has stepped up efforts to quell an uprising that has simmered since protests broke out in early 2011.

      But bombs targeting civilians are rare in the kingdom, where the Sunni Muslim Al Khalifa family rules over a majority Shia population.

      'Strange incident'

      Opposition politician Matar Matar of the Shia party al-Wefaq said he doubted that opposition activists were behind Monday's attacks.

      He suggested the police or military might have been responsible, or a rogue unit.

      "This incident is strange - why would anyone target workers?" he said. "I'm worried that police and military are losing control of their units or it is [preparation] before declaring martial law."

      Maryam al-Khawaja, acting head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said: "As always, we condemn violence but, given the Bahraini authorities' background in spreading disinformation, we call for an independent investigation into the deaths of the two migrant workers."

      Khawaja, who is based in Denmark, said the attacks were "not grounds to start a campaign of collective punishment, arbitrary arrests, and torture, as we've see happen before".

      Foreign ministers from the Gulf Co-operation Council - made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - plan to meet in Manama on Wednesday to discuss regional issues.

      The meeting will discuss Bahrain's tensions and growing clashes in Kuwait between security forces and the opposition.

      Thirty-five people were killed in Bahrain as the Shia-led opposition staged protests in February and March 2011 and the two months of martial law that followed. While mass protests in central Manama have been stamped out, clashes between protesters and riot police are still common in Shia districts.

      Activists and rights groups say 50 civilians have been killed in the turmoil since the end of martial law, while the authorities say two policemen have died.

      Shias make up about 70 per cent of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens. They complain of discrimination in the electoral system, jobs, housing and education, and say they are mistreated by government departments, the police and the army.

      Bahrain's Western allies have urged renewed efforts at dialogue to ease the crisis, but opposition groups insist that talks cannot move forward unless the monarchy is willing to make greater concessions to loosen its hold on the country's affairs.

      Bahrain's leaders have so far made reforms that include transferring more oversight powers to the elected parliament.
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