Bahrain: Four Killed as Police Clear Anti-Government Protesters

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Riots police cars approach the Pearl Roundabout to clear tents set up by protesters, in Manama February 17, 2011.

(Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

Riot police stormed Manama’s Pearl Square early Thursday morning, sending men, women and children scrambling for cover. At least four people were killed and dozens injured. And now the military has said it’s taken control of most of the capital and has also banned protests.

The demonstrators had assembled to demand more say in governing the small country in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain has been ruled by the Khalifa family for two centuries. The rulers are Sunni Muslims, while the people are predominantly Shi’ite. Riot police reportedly used tear gas and clubs to drive the protesters from Pearl Square, before armed patrols and tanks appeared on the streets for the first time. A message on State TV confirmed that “key parts” of Manama were now “under control.”

(More from TIME.com: See dramatic photographs of the unrest sweeping the Middle East.)

Mahmoud Mansouri told the AP that police surrounded the camp before moving in. “We yelled, ‘We are peaceful! Peaceful!’ The women and children were attacked just like the rest of us,” he said. “They moved in as soon as the media left us. They knew what they’re doing.”

Tensions between the state and its people have long run high. The king is reportedly so distrustful of the Shi’ite majority that he hires foreigners to work as police officers, reports the New York Times. The populace, in turn, resents the royals and their heavy-handed rule. Political opposition groups have spent years campaigning for political reforms. Now, after Tunisia and Egypt, it seems they’re taking a different tact.

Bahrain is an American ally and is home to the Fifth Fleet, a U.S. naval force seen as critical to American oil supplies. The Manama base, which is not near the site of the protest, is home to some 2300 American troops. (Via The New York Times and CNN)

(More from TIME.com: Read about a Bahrain Website that mixes music and activism.)

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