Thursday, February 17, 2011

Brutal Crackdown in Bahrain

Police Attack Bahrain Protest Site

At least two killed and many injured as police carry out surprise, nighttime raid on protest camp in Manama roundabout

Al Jazeera
17 February 2011

At least two pro-reform protesters have been killed and dozens more injured after hundreds of Bahraini riot police, armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and clubs, stormed their makeshift encampment in the main traffic circle in the capital, Manama, while they slept.

The pre-dawn assault on Pearl Roundabout, which has become the focal point for protesters demanding reform, was meant to disperse the crowd and regain control of the area.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Salmaniya hospital, the main medical facility in Manama, Maryama Alkawaka of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said that she saw dozens of injured demonstrators being wheeled into emergency rooms early on Thursday morning.

Nazea Saeed, a journalist with Radio Monte Carlo, said hundreds of people had gathered at the hospital.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from the scene, she said the crowd is chanting: "Down with Al-Khalifa", in reference to the country's ruling family.

"People are also chanting that the blood of the victims will not be in vein," she added.

'Attacked without warning'

"People were attacked while they were sleeping. There was no warning," Saeed said. "And when they ran, the police attacked them from the direction they fled to."

In a statement, the Bahraini interior ministry said that "security forces evacuated the area of Pearl Roundabout from protesters, after trying all opportunities for dialogue with them, in which some positively responded and left quietly."

Brigadier Tariq Hassan Al Hassan, a spokesman "called upon people to follow the constitution and the law while expressing their freedom of expression."

An Al Jazeera correspondent in the Pearl Roundabout area, said that he heard loud booms in the square, and felt a strong tear gas in the air.

"The police came in a quick move, using tear gas. It looks like they are trying to move the protesters away from the square, but this is no small protest," he said.

"Authorities are acting because they see clearly how big this is getting."

Matar Ibrahim, an opposition member of the parliament, said that women and children were among the injured.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Salmaniya hospital, he also said that at least that many of the wounded were in critical condition.

An Al Jazeera online producer in Manama said police helicopters were circling above the area.

"[Thursday] morning's call to prayer is struggling to become louder than the choppers circling overhead. The roads are nearly empty because of the police blockades, though just a little while ago, vehicles were travelling freely to and from the Lulu area," he said.


Pro-reform protesters have taken to the streets of Manama since Monday, apparently inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Two people had died in police firing on the protesters, prior to Thursday's deadly police raid. The deaths prompted a rare apology from the king, who in a television appearance expressed his condolences for "the deaths of two of our dear sons", and said a committee would investigate the killings.

"We will ask legislators to look into this issue and suggest needed laws to resolve it," he said, adding that peaceful protests were legal," Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa said.

But Alkwaka, the human rights activist, said that the fresh crackdown on peaceful protesters cast a doubt on the king's pledge for investigation and calm.

"People are now asking: is this the investigation that the king promised?" she asked.

Ruled and dominated by a Sunni minority, Bahrain has a Shia majority population. Tension between the two communities has been festering for years.

To balance the population, the government is accused of granting thousands of citizenships to Sunni workers. Saeed said this continues to be a source of deep tension.

Earlier, an Al Jazeera correspondent said pro-reform protesters initially demanded a constitutional monarchy. But as demonstrations gathered momentum, and as police crackdown on protests, many upped the ante on the ruling family, calling for its ouster.

A key ally of the US in the region, Bahrain houses a major military base for Washington.

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