Home > age of rage, Bahrain, Protests > Riot police storm square in Bahrain

Riot police storm square in Bahrain

February 17, 2011
Bahraini demonstrators stand by a damaged car after they managed to escape a police attack in Manama, Bahrain, early Thursday morning.
Bahraini demonstrators stand by a damaged car after they managed to escape a police attack in Manama, Bahrain, early Thursday morning.

Hassan Ammar/AP

Jesse McLean Staff Reporter

MANAMA—Riot police stormed a square occupied by anti-government protesters Thursday, driving them out with tear gas and rubber bullets and destroying a makeshift encampment that had become the demonstrators’ rallying point.

At least two people were killed in the pre-dawn assault on Pearl Square, the main opposition group Al Wefaq said. There was no official word on deaths or injuries.

After riot police regained control of the plaza, they chased protesters through sidestreets just as the dawn call for prayers rang out.

Protesters described police swarming in through a cloud of tear gas.

“They attacked our tents, beating us with batons,” Jafar Jafar, 17, told Associated Press. “The police were lined up at the bridge overhead. They were shooting tear gas from the bridge.”

Reports of two deaths early Thursday brings to four the number of demonstrators killed since protests began here Monday.

More than 1,000 mourners poured into a dusty graveyard on Wednesday to bury Fadhel Salman Matrook, 32, who was shot Tuesday as he and hundreds of others attended a funeral for a protester who had been killed the day before in a clash with security forces.

As the soldiers charged the crowd, Matrook stopped to help someone who had fallen, witnesses said. An officer fired a shotgun at him from just metres away.

“They attacked an innocent man, a harmless man,” sobbed Mohammed Hassan at the funeral.

Hassan was just steps away when his best friend was shot.

“He is a martyr,” he said, vowing the protests will only grow. “We’ll be here every minute. He died for us. We won’t let his blood go for nothing.”

By Wednesday evening, as many as 10,000 demonstrators were settling in for the long haul in a makeshift tent city.

“This will be our Tahrir Square,” said Sayed Baqur Al-Mukhtar, referring to the Cairo protests that brought down Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak last week. “The Bahraini people are energized because of what happened in Egypt. We won’t move until we get change.”

That change sought by protesters involves sweeping political reform, including ending the system through which Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa hand-picks the prime minister — his uncle — as well as the cabinet, protesters say.

But the undercurrent of reform is a systematic discrimination alleged by Bahrain’s Shiite majority, who say the ruling Sunni minority shuts them out of housing and well-paying jobs, as well as restricting their political freedoms.

Bahrain’s ruler has confronted the unrest with indecision over tactics, switching back and forth between carrot and truncheon. The king promised each Bahraini family 1,000 dinars, about $2,600, and pledged to loosen media controls.

Meanwhile, police launched a salvo of live ammunition and tear gas canisters on Monday and again Tuesday, killing two and injuring scores more.

On Tuesday, the king made a rare TV address to offer condolences for the death.

He pledged an investigation into the killings.

“They have backed into a corner,” said Fatimah Khalid. “But the police are like dogs, they can bite back when you don’t think they would.”

U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on the unrest. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Military’s 5th Fleet base, considered one of the Pentagon’s major counterweights against Iran’s expanding military reach throughout the Gulf.

At the funeral, Matrook’s brother Yasser wiped tears from his eyes as he remembered his younger sibling. Like many young Shiites, Matrook was unemployed and had been looking for a steady job for several years, one of the reasons he was at the rallies, Yasser said.

After Matrook was shot, Hassan and another man picked him up, his black and white shirt soaked with blood, and carried him into a nearby hospital.

“I told him to calm down, that he won’t die,” Hassan said. “He said to take care of his children and his wife.” Friends say he died less than 15 minutes later.

Yasser held a folded piece of paper from the hospital that detailed his brother’s injuries.

“Cause of death: Gunshot wounds to back and chest, causing intensive damage to his internal organs,” Yasser read in Arabic. He looked up from the paper, his cheeks stained with tears.

“Reading this, it hurts so much. My brother has children. They have no father.”

Bahrain’s interior ministry said it has arrested the officers involved in both killings and promised to take legal action if it finds the police used “unjustifiable” force.

The throng of mourners marched for more than two hours Wednesday morning, following a car with Matrook’s body to a mosque.

As they neared the building, they pounded their hands off their chests, defiantly shouting for the fall of the regime.

But once the procession arrived at the cemetery, the marchers’ mood turned sombre.

A stream of people visited the room where Matrook’s body had been cleaned. When the body was ready, his mother went in.

Her wails reverberated down the corridor.

“You have not died, you are with Allah,” she cried as two men held her up.

His body, laid on a metal stretcher and covered with cloth, was hoisted into the air and carried into the graveyard. Men and children reached up to touch the martyr as the body passed them.

“He’s a hero for Bahrain,” his brother Yasser said. “He lifted our heads up. He’s my hero.”

With files from Associated Press

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