Bahrain quells protest
By Rizwan Khatik - Fri Feb 18, 5:43 am
Hours after the attack on Manama’s main Pearl Square, the military announced a ban on gatherings, saying on state TV that it had “key parts” of the capital under its control.
After several days of holding back, the government unleashed a heavy crackdown, trying to stamp out the first anti-government upheaval to reach the Arab states of the Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In the surprise assault, police tore down protesters’ tents, beating men and women inside and blasting some with shotgun sprays of birdshot.
Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Khalifa said the crackdown on anti-government protesters was justified because the demonstrators were pushing the kingdom to the “brink of the sectarian abyss.” Speaking to reporters after meeting with his Gulf counterparts, Al-Khalifa said the violence that occurred during the raid was “regrettable.”
But the assault further enraged protesters who called for large rallies Friday. “We are even angrier now. They think they can clamp down on us, but they have made us angrier,” Makki Abu Taki, whose son was killed in the assault, shouted in the hospital morgue. “We will take to the streets in larger numbers and honor our martyrs.”
The Obama administration expressed alarm over the violent crackdown. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Bahrain’s foreign minister to register Washington’s “deep concern” and urge restraint. Similar criticism came from Britain and the European Union.
Salmaniyah hospital was thrown into chaos by a stream of dozens of wounded from Pearl Square, brought in by ambulances and private cars. At least one of the dead was peppered with bloody holes from pellets fired from police shotguns. Nurses rushed in men and women on stretchers, their heads bleeding, arms in casts, faces bruised. At the entrance, women wrapped in black robes embraced each other and wept.
The capital Manama was effectively shut down Thursday. For the first time in the crisis, tanks rolled into the streets and military checkpoints were set up as army patrols circulated. The Interior Ministry warned Bahrainis to stay off the streets. Banks and other key institutions did not open, and workers stayed home, unable or too afraid to pass through checkpoints to get to their jobs.
Barbed wire and police cars with flashing blue lights encircled Pearl Square, the site of anti-government rallies since Monday. The square was turned into a field of flattened tents and the strewn belongings of the protesters who had camped there — pieces of clothing and boxes of food. Banners lay trampled on the ground, littered with broken glass, tear gas canisters and debris. A body covered in a white sheet lay in a pool of blood on the side of a road nearby.
Demonstrators had been camping out for days around the landmark square’s 90-meter monument featuring a giant pearl, a testament to the island’s pearl-diving past.
The protesters’ demands have two main objectives: force the monarchy to give up its control over top government posts and all critical decisions, and address deep grievances of citizens.
The assault came early Thursday with little warning, demonstrators said. Police surrounded the square and then quickly moved in. Some lined up on a bridge overhead, pumping down volleys of tear gas, as others waded into the camp, knocking down tents and swinging truncheons at those inside.
“We yelled, ‘We are peaceful! Peaceful!’” said protester Mahmoud Mansouri. “The women and children were attacked just like the rest of us.”
Dr. Sadek Al-Ikri, 44, said he was tending to sick protesters at a makeshift medical tent in the square when the police stormed in. He said he was tied up and severely beaten, then thrown on a bus with others.
“They were beating me so hard I could no longer see. There was so much blood running from my head,” he said.
“I was yelling, ‘I’m a doctor. I’m a doctor.’ But they didn’t stop.” He said the police beating him spoke Urdu, the main language of Pakistan.