Two Protesters Dead as Bahrain Declares State of Emergencyhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/world/middleeast/16bahrain.html?ref=world
MANAMA, Bahrain — The battle for control of this strategic island kingdom intensified on Tuesday as Iran lashed out at the arrival of Saudi troops brought in to help retake the streets from antigovernment protesters, and the king declared a three-month state of emergency. Two men were killed by security forces in a growing wave of unrest.
A senior American diplomat arrived on an unplanned visit and sought ways to calm the chaos while pressing the government to exercise restraint. Long-simmering popular anger at the autocratic government and Sunni Muslim domination over a Shiite majority has been ratcheted up by recent revolts across the Arab world.
“We are not an exact copy of what happened in Egypt but we have been inspired by it,” said Redha Hayat, a petroleum technician manning a protester checkpoint in the village of Sanabis.
Since Sunday, much of Manama, the capital, and many surrounding villages have taken on the quality of a war zone with overturned trash hauling bins and piles of rubble blocking empty streets lined with shuttered malls. Protesters and the police have set up competing checkpoints, schools are closed, gasoline stations have no fuel, cash machines are empty and there are daily encounters between tear-gas lobbing police officers and demonstrators.
Doctors at Salmaniya Hospital in Manama estimated that 200 people had been injured on Tuesday and said two had been killed in the village of Sitra in clashes with the riot police. One man, Ahmed Farhan, 24, had dozens of shotgun pellet wounds in his back and a gaping head injury. The second man, a foreign worker from Bangladesh, had tire marks from having been run over by security forces, the doctors said.
“The signs are that this is a coordinated attack,” Dr. Ali al-Aradi, a hospital administrator, said. “These were not skirmishes. This was an attack on the protesters. These are the kinds of wounds we are seeing — shotgun and head injuries.”
The government meanwhile accused the protesters of running over and killing a member of the security forces and directing automatic weapons fire at others. It was impossible to verify such claims but there was little doubt that the mood on the streets had hardened in the month since peaceful protests began in Pearl Square, the capital’s center. The demonstrators still chant “peaceful, peaceful” but some now also carry sticks of wood and steel.
While the 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were shown on television arriving on Monday across the causeway linking this island to Saudi Arabia, they were nowhere in evidence on Tuesday and seemed to have remained garrisoned in military barracks near the royal palace.
Iran, the center of Shiite Islam which has sometimes called Bahrain one of its own provinces, objected angrily to the troops’ arrival. The state media called it an invasion and the Foreign Ministry spokesman told a news conference in Tehran that the presence of foreign troops in Bahrain was “unacceptable.”
There is little evidence that the Shiite-led protests here have an Iranian sponsor or flavor. In fact, they are at least as much about demands for a democratic government as about sectarianism. But the risk of Iranian interference is clearly on the minds of the Saudis and the Americans.
Bahrain, a longtime American ally, is home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf and helps support the war in Afghanistan. The kingdom also allows American military aircraft to operate from its main air base.
But the Obama administration has been urging the royal family to step up long-promised political reforms. Last Saturday, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates stopped here to tell King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa that “baby steps” toward change were not enough. Jeffrey D. Feltman, an assistant secretary of state, was in Manama on Tuesday seeking solutions to what an American Embassy statement called “rising tensions and increased incidents of violence in Bahrain.”
A White House spokesman called for “calm and restraint on all sides.” He added: “We are particularly concerned by the increasing reports of provocative acts and sectarian violence by all groups. The use of force and violence from any source will only worsen the situation. One thing is clear: there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain. A political solution is necessary and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain’s citizens.”
Shortly after arriving in Cairo on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton telephoned Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, to express concern about the intervention in Bahrain. At a news conference she said, “The use of force and violence from any source will only worsen the situation.” And she repeated the American call for a negotiated resolution between protesters and Bahrain’s government that seems more remote than ever after a declaration of a national emergency.
Although she declined to characterize the Saudi action, she said she told Prince Saud that “the security challenges cannot be a substitute for a political resolution.”
On Tuesday afternoon, some 10,000 people marched from Pearl Square to the Saudi Embassy to urge the Saudis to take their troops back. It was peaceful and flowers were placed at the embassy’s gate. Pearl Square, which honors the pearl industry that has long served this country, has been nearly continuously held by the protesters for the past month and has been reminiscent of Tahrir Square in Cairo.
But in the village of Sitra, a center of antimonarchy activism where the two men were killed, the mood was entirely different on Tuesday. Hundreds of young men, many armed with sticks, dominated the intersections and sought to confront dozens of policemen. Several truck drivers had placed their trucks in the middle of the main road to block the police who mostly stayed on the outskirts shooting tear gas canisters.
People sympathetic to the protesters drove through by flashing a pre-established code with their headlights. Women draped in black laid out at intersections sliced onions and pieces of citrus fruit useful in staving off the effects of tear gas.
“This is one of the poorest and most active villages in Bahrain,” said Jalila Alawi, a social worker who was watching with her two teenage daughters. The village is entirely Shiite. The royal family is Sunni as is the group of elites, about 30 percent of the population, that runs most of the country’s institutions.
In another activist village, Sanabis, Ghada Nasser, an English teacher at the local primary girls’ school, said armed gangs that she believed were sponsored by the security services had been entering the village and causing trouble. She said no one had been sleeping since Sunday because of the turmoil.
“I wish the Americans would help us,” she said. “But the day after your defense minister came here, the Saudi troops came in. What is the United States doing to end this situation?”