Bahrain protesters driven out of Pearl Square by tanks and tear gas

 

Please see letter relating to this article published on 16 June 2011 from the Information Affairs Authority of Bahrain

Thousands of soldiers and police, backed by tanks and helicopters, advanced behind clouds of tear gas to crush pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain yesterday.

The assault, which came immediately after the arrival of 1,000 Saudi troops in the island kingdom, drove demonstrators swiftly from their camp at Pearl Square, the symbolic heart of the protest. Three protesters and three policemen died. Clouds of black smoke rose over the centre of the capital Manama, as the Sunni al-Khalifa monarchy made a risky bid to continue its 200-year-long rule over the majority Shia population. The white tents of protesters were set on fire and there was the sound of what appeared to be live rounds being fired, as well as rubber bullets and tear gas grenades. Two policemen were reported to have been killed by people fleeing the square in their cars.

"The military has taken over and are shooting from helicopters at people in Pearl Square," said Ali Salman, the president of the al-Wefaq, the largest opposition party in Bahrain.

Mr Salman said Saudi troops were not taking part in the government action against protesters, but while Saudis "are in Bahrain it is a green light to our army to kill people. The Saudis don't want any of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries to be democratic."

The riot police and soldiers began their all-out assault at 7am, but met only limited resistance at Pearl Square. At Budaya health centre a witness told a news agency that he had seen about 50 casualties: "I've seen some terrific wounds, lots of people hurt by bird shot," he said. "One had his hand blown up by some kind of bullet. He was using his other hand to show the victory sign."

The Bahraini government's story of events in Pearl Square is that its forces were attacked by 250 "saboteurs" throwing petrol bombs, forcing them to retaliate. In Shia areas people went to mosques to pray as a sign of protest as the army assault began. Soldiers were reported to be entering Shia villages outside Manama, where they were met with stones and petrol bombs in some places. A 4am to 4pm curfew has been imposed in most of the country and security forces have banned journalists from moving around. Mobile phones appear to have been jammed and internet services were very slow.

Mr Salman said his party was not calling for immediate demonstrations and told protesters not to confront the army, but "after two or three days people will find a way of expressing their feelings". He did not believe there was any chance of a dialogue between reformers and the government "so long as the killing goes on".

The all-out attack by a Sunni regime notorious for its sectarianism on its own, mainly Shia, population, with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies, is likely to provoke a long-term crisis in the Gulf and deepen divisions between Shia and Sunni.

Iraq and Iran are both majority Shia states and both reacted angrily to news of the crack-down. In southern Iraq 4,000 people marched chanting "Bahrain is the Gaza of the Gulf", equating Bahraini government action against their own people with Israeli attacks on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

In Iran, the largest Shia country in terms of population, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad compared the Saudi action to that of Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990 and how it had ultimately led to his downfall. He said on state television: "What has happened is bad, unjustifiable and irreparable." In the past, however, Iran has been cautious about going beyond rhetorical attacks on Saudi Arabia or the small Sunni states on the western side of the Gulf. "The people's demands for change must be respected," said Mr Ahmedinejad. "How is it possible to stop waves of humanity with military force?"

British nationals in Bahrain were last night urged by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to leave the country today, unless they have a "pressing reason" to stay. It said it is chartering planes to supplement commercial flights out.

Prime Minister David Cameron telephoned King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to urge him to end the violent suppression of street protests. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, spoke to Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, his Bahrani counterpart, to express "serious concern" at the situation and urge restraint. Mr Hague said: "The UK remains seriously concerned about today's clashes with protesters and reports of several casualties."

The US is in a difficult position and is very publicly distancing itself from the Saudi action and that of the Bahraini government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed alarm at the "provocative acts and sectarian violence". The contradictions in the US position were underlined when she phoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal to stress that Saudi soldiers in their armoured vehicles should be used to promote dialogue.

But while the US is asking for moderation, it probably draws the line at the overthrow of the monarchy in Bahrain by a Shia protest movement, however peaceful and democratic.

Regional round-up

Yemen

Government supporters armed with sticks, knives and guns yesterday attacked thousands of pro-democracy protesters camped out in a main square, injuring hundreds of people, according to witnesses.

About 10,000 government supporters attacked about 4,000 protesters in southern al-Hudaydah port on the Red Sea. Witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals. Police separated the sides by firing tear-gas.

Syria

Plain-clothed security officers armed with batons dispersed about 100 protesters in the Syrian capital yesterday, beating some and detaining at least 30 people, according to witnesses and rights groups.

Syrians have tried to stage demonstrations inspired by those sweeping the Arab world, but intimidation and other factors have quashed the gatherings in a country that routinely jails critics of the regime.

Tunisia

Dozens of Tunisian youths have protested against the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, shouting "No to foreign intervention" and "Clinton get out". The hour-long rally on Tunis's main thoroughfare, organised via Facebook, ended peacefully, hours before Ms Clinton's arrival last night. More protests are planned, including in front of the US Embassy, and blogger Oussama Mraissi says a big rally is planned in Tunis today.

* Read the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on