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At least 5 dead in Bahrain crackdown

Five reportedly killed in a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters as Saudi-led forces enter Bahrain to prop up the monarchy

AP and Ahram Online, Wednesday 16 Mar 2011
Manama
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces invade to Pearl Square to evacuate anti-government protesters in Manama 16 March 2011. (Reuters)
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Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles to drive out hundreds of pro-democracy protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain's capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom. Reports said at least 5 people were killed by Wednesday.

The full-scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the center of uprising against Bahrain's rulers since it began more than a month ago.

Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square, possibly from the protesters' tents set ablaze.

Witnesses said at least two protesters were killed Wednesday, but there was no official word on casualties from authorities. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from officials.

It was unclear whether the offensive included soldiers from other Gulf nations who were dispatched to help Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, which has been under relentless pressure from the country's majority Shia Muslims to give up its monopoly on power.

But state TV broadcast video showing military vehicles in the square flying Bahrain's red-and-white flag as security officials moved through the wreckage of the encampment, set up at the base of a towering monument to the country's history as a pearl diving center. The video showed the ground littered with debris, including satellite dishes and charred tent poles.

Helicopters crisscrossed over the square, which was cleared by security forces late last month but was later retaken by protesters after a deadly confrontation with army units.

Protesters fled for cover into side streets and security forces blocked main roads into Manama. Mobile phones were apparently jammed in central Manama during the height of the attack and Internet service was at a crawl.

Hamid Zuher, a 32-year-old protester who slept at the square, said riot police first moved in on foot through a haze of tear gas, firing in the air.

"They fired tear gas and then opened fire," Zuher said.

"We lifted our arms and started saying 'Peaceful, Peaceful.' Then we had to ran away. There was so much tear gas and shooting."

In Shia villages, people went to mosques to pray in a sign of protest against the Pearl Square crackdown. Others lit fires in anger. Clashes were reported in other mostly Shia areas of the country, where traffic was tightly controlled by military forces in an apparent attempt to prevent protest gatherings or a surge of people toward the capital.

The official Bahrain news agency said the emergency rule bans "rallies and disrupting the public order" and imposes "movement restrictions" and possible curfews in some locations.

For Bahrain's authorities, clearing Pearl Square would be more of a symbolic blow against protesters than a strategic victory as opposition groups are still be able to mobilize marches and other actions against the leadership.

Bahrain's king on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency and instructed the military to battle unrest in the strategic nation, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Shortly after the announcement, clashes erupted across the island nation, killing at least two civilians.

Saudi officials also said reported one of it's soldiers was killed.

Washington considers Bahrain of strategic interest because of it's home to a key US naval base, the Pentagon's main Gulf counterweight to perceived Iranian military ambitions.

On Tuesday, Iran and it's allied force in Lebanon, Hezbollah, denounced the presence of foreign soldiers in Bahrain. Iran has no direct political links with Bahrain's main Shia groups.

Gulf rulers, particularly Saudi Arabia, fear that the collapse of Bahrain's Sunni monarchy could embolden further revolts across the region and embolden the Saudi Shia population whose home region is oil-rich and connected to Bahrain by a causeway.

The state of emergency in the US-backed regime gives Bahrain's military chief wide authority to battle protesters demanding political reforms and equal rights for the majority Shia.

Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rhodium Clinton expressed alarm over "provocative acts and sectarian violence," and said she telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi to stress the need for the foreign forces to promote dialogue. 

"We call for calm and restraint on all sides in Bahrain," Clinton told reporters in Cairo, where she was urging on democratic currents that chased Egypt's Hosni Mubarak from power last month.

The UN had previously expressed concern over the foriegn intervention in Bahrain and the escalating conflict between the protesters and the government.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon authorized military family members and civilians with non-emergency jobs to leave Bahrain as violence spread.

The intervention of more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops from several Gulf nations was the first major cross-border military action to challenge one of the revolts sweeping across the Arab world. The Al Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain for 200 years.

The foreign troops are from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield Force. The bloc is made up of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates all essentially monarchic states ruled by sultan, emirs, or sheikhs,  that have nervously watched the Arab world's protests.

The Saudi government on Tuesday withdrew accreditation to the chief Reuters correspondent there, complaining about a recent report on a protest in the kingdom. Reuters stood by its coverage.

Iran denounced the foreign intervention as "unacceptable" and predicted it would complicate the kingdom's political crisis.

A senior Bahraini foreign affairs official, Hamad Al-Amer, called the remarks "blatant intervention in internal Bahraini affairs" and said Iran's ambassador to Bahrain was summoned to the Foreign Ministry.

A security official in Saudi Arabia reported a Saudi sergeant was shot and killed by a protester in Bahrain's capital, Manama. No other details were immediately given on the death of the soldier, identified as Sgt. Ahmed Al-Raddadi.

The Saudi official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

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