Bahrain Oil Company Fires Hundreds Over Protests


Bahrain's oil company has fired almost 300 employees in recent weeks for taking part in anti-government protests and general strikes, according to the Gulf kingdom's energy minister.

Abdulhussain bin Ali Mirza, who also serves as the chief executive of the state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), said that 293 employees have been dismissed since the king declared martial law on March 15 to quell weeks of demonstrations.

Fifty employees were also suspended pending investigations by authorities, and 11 board members of the workers union were referred to the general prosecutor, Mirza told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Authorities have been aggressively pursuing Shiite opposition supporters who staged street marches, demanding greater freedoms, equal rights and an elected government in the strategic island kingdom, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

At least 30 people have been killed since the protests began in February, inspired by revolts against autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. Hundreds of protesters, opposition leaders, human rights activists, athletes and Shiite professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been detained.

Dozens are being tried in the country's special security court, set up under emergency rule. Late last month, four protesters were sentenced to death for killing two policemen in the unrest.

On Sunday, the king ordered a June 1 end to emergency rule. The decision appeared part of Bahrain's international campaign to reassure financial markets and win back high-profile events — including the coveted Formula 1 grand prix, a major revenue earner, which was canceled in March after deadly clashes between the protesters and riot police.

It was long assumed that the Gulf region's oil wealth would stave off the kind of unrest that has roiled Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. Bahrain, however, has little oil compared with the regional crude titans that make up the other members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

BAPCO produces 250,000 barrels per day. Before the political unrest, the company employed 3,000 people.

According to Bahrain's Chamber of Commerce assessment, the general economic conditions in the kingdom "are very difficult." International ratings agencies have either downgraded or warned about cuts to its ratings.

The island's tourism industry has been hit the hardest, a recent statement by the Chamber said, adding that tourism revenue has fallen "by about 80 percent," losses estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Much of Bahrain's tourism comes from neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has dispatched troops to the kingdom to help the Sunni monarchy crush the uprising.