Police stormed a protest camp in central Manama yesterday, killing three people in a swift move to prevent protesters from emulating Egyptians whose Tahrir Square protests helped to topple former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
“Police are coming, they are shooting tear gas at us,” one protester said by telephone as police swooped at 3am.
Another said: “I am wounded, I am bleeding. They’re killing us.”
Upwards of 40 army trucks and armored vehicles, including at least one tank, later deployed in and around Pearl Square, a road junction demonstrators had tried to turn into a protest base like Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a photographer said.
The crackdown by the Bahraini authorities appeared designed to snuff out the protests before they could gather momentum, unlike the sustained unrest that unseated Mubarak.
The main Shiite bloc Wefaq, which holds 17 of parliament’s 40 seats, planned to quit the assembly in protest.
“We feel there was a decision to hurt people,” lawmaker Ibrahim Mattar said. “All the members are going to resign. The decision is taken.”
Mattar said about 60 people were missing, hours after the police raid.
“Are they in prison or did they escape and are now hiding in houses? We don’t know,” he said.
Thousands of overwhelmingly Shiite protesters, emboldened by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, took to Bahrain’s streets three days ago demanding more say in the Gulf Arab kingdom where a Sunni Muslim family rules over a majority Shiite population.
Wefaq lawmakers said three people had been killed and 100 wounded in the police attack on Pearl Square, bringing the overall death toll to five since protests began. Reuters could confirm 45 wounded. The government has given no casualty toll.
“This is real terrorism,” Wefaq lawmaker Abdul Jalil Khalil said. “Whoever took the decision to attack the protest was aiming to kill.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague voiced deep concern and urged the Bahraini police to use restraint.
“I am deeply concerned by events in Bahrain last night and by the level of violence at Pearl roundabout, and urge all sides to avoid violence and for the police to exercise restraint,” he said in a statement released by the British embassy in Manama. “It is important that all those injured have immediate access to medical treatment. It is crucial that the Bahraini government moves quickly to carry out its commitment to a transparent investigation into earlier deaths and extends this to include today’s [Thursday’s] events and any alleged human rights abuses.”
King Hamad has offered condolences to relatives of the two men killed on Monday and Tuesday, and he said a committee would investigate. The government says it has detained those thought to be responsible for the killings.
The police raid was short and sharp. Within 20 minutes, protesters had fled, leaving tents, blankets and garbage behind them as tear gas wafted through the air.
One protester said he had driven away two people who had been wounded by rubber bullets. A teenager shepherded a sobbing woman into a car, saying she had been separated from her two-year-old daughter in the chaos. At a main hospital, about 200 people gathered to mourn and protest, some shouting slogans against the ruling family.
Helicopters clattered over the city and tow-trucks dragged away cars abandoned by protesters, their tires squealing on the tarmac because the brakes were still on.