Thu, Mar 17, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Bahrain crackdown sparks regional Shiite outrage

AFP, MANAMA

Bahrain’s opposition accused the kingdom’s Sunni authorities of killing three protesters in a violent raid yesterday on a peaceful pro-democracy camp that sparked Shiite outrage across the region.

Hundreds of riot police backed by tanks and helicopters fired shotguns and tear gas canisters at demonstrators in Pearl Square in the early morning, clearing the symbolic heart of the uprising.

“We now have three martyrs,” Khalil Marzouk, deputy head of the Al-Wefaq movement and a member of parliament, said, adding that the situation was “catastrophic,” with hospitals closed off and Shiite villages surrounded.

The government said two police were killed in hit-and-run attacks by opposition drivers, bringing to four the number of officers killed in this way since Tuesday.

It has not confirmed the deaths of any protesters, whom it refers to as “saboteurs.”

The violence came a day after King Hamad, supported by armed forces which have arrived in the island state from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, declared a three-month state of emergency.

Police arrived in tanks and buses before moving in on the mainly Shiite Muslim demonstrators, who had been camped out in the square for a month.

Thick clouds of back smoke mixed with tear gas over the square as the protesters’ tents were set on fire. Explosions believed to be caused by cooking gas canisters also shook the area.

As helicopters hovered overhead, troops then entered the nearby financial center to clear it of illegal roadblocks and the handfuls of protesters still remaining after clashes there on Sunday injured more than 200 people.

Shots were heard as troops escorted a bulldozer into the Financial Harbor business complex, the center of a regional finance hub.

Clutches of demonstrators could be heard chanting Allahu akbar (God is great) and some set fire to trash cans in the streets, but the area was largely deserted.

The protesters are demanding reforms by the Sunni dynasty.

Opposition chief Sheikh Ali Salman said the regime was acting like Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and using “extreme brutality” against ordinary people.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the intervention by Saudi-led forces to prop up the Al-Khalifa royal family as “foul and doomed.”

Shiite leaders in Iraq as well as the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon also expressed outrage. Basheer al-Najafi, one of Iraq’s leading Shiite authorities, accused Bahrain of targeting peaceful villages with “gunfire and mortars.”

Two people were killed and hundreds wounded in clashes outside the capital overnight on Tuesday, medical sources said.

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