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Geopolitics

Is Bahrain Different? Demonstrators Must Overcome Shia-Sunni Divide

Will the Bahraini royal family be the next Arab domino to fall? As pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain enter a second week, protestors hold fast in the face of brutal army repression.

Young protester in Pearl Square
Young protester in Pearl Square
Laure Stephan

MANAMA – Like a river that has burst its banks, the flood of words is relentless. On the Pearl Square roundabout, the meeting point for protestors in the heart of the Bahraini capital Manama since February 14, a young man talks about the ongoing uprising, and its repression. Others gather around him. Everyone wants to explain something, add a detail. Most of the protesters are young, between 20 and 35 years old.

They feel compelled to talk. Because "the kingdom of Bahrain is going through a historic moment, and without the foreign media our movement will be suffocated," says Ahlam, a 32-year-old teacher dressed in the traditional Abaya, trendy jeans and shoes poking out the bottom. Because they see themselves as heirs to the revolution coursing through the Arab world: "If the regime falls, the uprising will spread to neighboring gulf countries," says Ahmad, a young businessman. Because they feel they have been cheated by the authorities when the state television channel doesn't show any footage of their protests.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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