Shots fired at Bahrain protesters

 

Soldiers fired tear gas and shot heavy weapons into the air as thousands of protest marchers defied a government ban in Bahrain’s capital.

Soldiers fired tear gas and shot heavy weapons at protesters tonight as thousands of marchers defied a government ban in Bahrain’s capital.

The shooting took place on a day of mourning on which Shias buried four protesters killed in police raid on Pearl Square.

Bahraini security forces shot at protesters near Pearl Square on Friday and wounded at least 23, a former Shia lawmaker said, a day after police forcibly cleared a protest camp from the traffic circle in Manama.

"We think it was the army," said Sayed Hadi, of Wefaq, the main Shia group which resigned from parliament yesterday. It also coincided with an appeal for calm and dialogue from the crown prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.

"The dialogue is always open and the reforms continue," Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa said on Bahrain TV. "This land is for all citizens of Bahrain ... All honest people at this time should say 'enough'.

"We need to call for self-restraint from all sides, the armed forces, security men and citizens," he said. "I urge you, there should be calm. Now is time for calm."

Police had no immediate comment. Witnesses said about 20 police cars had driven to the square after the initial shooting.

Lebanon's Hezbollah-run al-Manar television quoted a doctor at Salmaniya hospital in Manama as saying 25 wounded had been admitted, two of them with serious wounds.

“This is a peaceful protest," said Dr Mahmoud Abbas. "How can it be confronted with bullets? There is a humanitarian disaster. We cannot handle this."

Four people were killed and 231 wounded when riot police raided the protest camp yesterday, when most of the demonstrators were sleeping.

Soldiers in tanks and armoured vehicles later took control of the square, which the mainly Shia protesters had hoped to use as a base like Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of protests that toppled President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month.

Several thousand mourners turned out today to bury those killed in what Bahrain's top Shia cleric called a "massacre" ordered by the island's Sunni ruling family to crush protests. The unrest has presented the US with a now familiar dilemma, torn between its desire for stability in a longstanding Arab ally and a need to uphold its own principles about the right of people to demonstrate for democratic change.

Revered cleric Sheikh Issa Qassem denounced the police attack on the square and said the authorities had shut the door to dialogue, but stopped short of calling for street protests. "The massacre was on purpose to kill and to hurt and not to clear any demonstration," he said.

Shias form 70 per cent of Bahraini nationals ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty, the US state department estimates.

Several thousand Shias joined funeral processions in the island village of Sitra, south of Manama, for three of the dead. Police stayed away, although a helicopter circled overhead. On Tuesday, one protester was killed at the funeral of another man.

In a loyalist demonstration in Manama, hundreds of people waving flags and pictures of the king streamed through the streets, local television footage showed.

Inside the Sitra mosque, men washed the body of 22-year-old student Mahmoud Abu Taki, who was peppered with buckshot. "He told me before he went there, 'don't worry, father, I want freedom'," said his father, Mekki Abu Taki (53).

"This is a failed government," said Mr Abu Taki, a real estate company manager. "Of course the protests will continue. The government here is like people of the jungle."

The flag-draped coffins of his son and Ali Mansour Khudeir (58), were driven to the cemetery atop vehicles. Three protesters were buried there and the fourth in Karzakan village. "Trial, trial for the criminal gang," the crowd shouted. "Justice, freedom and constitutional monarchy."

The Gulf Arab state is a close ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia, which see it as a bulwark against Shia Iran.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton urged Bahrain yesterday to use restraint and to keep its promise "to hold accountable those who have used excessive force".

Foreign minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said the police had to act against the Pearl Square protest camp to save Bahrain from the "brink of a sectarian abyss".

In 1999 King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa enacted a constitution allowing elections for a parliament with some powers, but royals still dominate a cabinet led by the king's uncle who has been premier for 40 years. Shias feel cut out of decision-making, as well as from jobs in the army and security forces.

Saudi Arabia fears unrest spreading to its own Shia community, a minority there but concentrated in the eastern oil-producing area of the world's top crude exporter. Unrest which toppled the long-serving leaders of Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks has spread across the Arab world. This week has seen deadly protests in Libya, Yemen and Iraq.

Reuters