Bahrain Defends Deadly Crackdown On Protests
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
In Bahrain, the military has sealed off much of the capital. That's after a deadly predawn raid on protesters who were camped at a central square. At least four were killed, hundreds were wounded, some of them critically. Bahrain is a small collection of islands in the Persian Gulf that prides itself on stability.
But as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from the capital, Manama, passions are running high.
PETER KENYON: In the end, Bahrain's version of Tahrir Square didn't last two days. At around 3:00 this morning, some 36 hours after allowing demonstrators to fill the square, the government ordered riot police to move in. Soon, the square was littered with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and shotgun shells, as police descended on the protesters, some of whom were asleep.
Not long after, military convoys of armored vehicles and tanks took up positions on key roadways.
(Soundbite of hospital)
KENYON: The ambulances returned to Salmaniya Hospital, some bearing the slain or wounded, some carrying only wounded paramedics who'd been beaten while trying to reach the square. Paramedic Abu Abdullah(ph) sat on a stretcher, his head bandaged and his arm in a sling.
Mr. ABU ABDULLAH (Paramedic): They pulled me from the ambulance, me and my driver, and they start kicking me and more than 12 policemen. I told them I am a paramedic, I came here to help people. But they are just beating everyone.
(Soundbite of protest)
KENYON: In the mortuary, workers had to slam the large metal doors shut against a mass of relatives who had come to see the body of Isa Abdul Hassan(ph), a middle-aged Bahraini driver whose body was lying on a gurney inside with much of its face missing. Slumped on the curb outside, his son, Hassan Isa said his father was attacked by police as he tried to reach the square.
(Soundbite of protesters)
Mr. HASSAN ISA: (Speaking foreign language)
KENYON: I was supposed to be the martyr, he said, not him. Now the son says he's proud of his father and ready to join him.
Nearby, a slim man in wire-rimmed glasses named Jawad(ph) paced angrily and quickly spoke up when he heard a reporter speaking English.
JAWAD: They are murdering people. Cold-blooded murder. It's cold-blooded murder.
KENYON: The government had a response ready. It said the protests were illegal and that the demonstrators were warned by bullhorn to leave before the police moved in. It also said weapons were found in the square, though none had been in evidence during the camp's brief existence.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Al Khalifa, at a meeting of regional diplomats, insisted that the violence was not intentional but the square had to be cleared to protect the country.
Mr. SHEIKH KHALID AL KHALIFA (Foreign Minister, Bahrain): The society at that moment was being polarized. The country was working on the brink of a sectarian abyss. So it was a very important step that had to happen.
KENYON: Opposition leader Ibrahim Sharif, one of the organizers whose mantra was to keep things peaceful, said the morning's events could not be described as a day of rage.
Mr. IBRAHIM SHARIF (Opposition Party Leader, Bahrain): This is a day of insanity. Whoever made the decision is insane. These people are harmless. These people are without defenses. These people have demonstrated peaceful and yet people are attacked in the middle of the night while half of them asleep. This is totally insane.
KENYON: Sharif added that if the country's rulers were hoping to intimidate the demonstrators into staying home, they will be disappointed.
Mr. SHARIF: The determination of the people will not be broken. We have struggled in the past. We are going to do what's necessary to change this into a democratic country. Even if some of us would lose their lives and we...
(Soundbite of crying)
KENYON: The military has secured parts of the capital and police have blocked entries to some Shiite villages. But one man standing in the hospital mortuary who gave his name as Riyad(ph), said this is far from over.
Mr. RIYAD: We will never stop.
CROWD: We will never stop.
Mr. RIYAD: If they want to bring every day 10 people here, we will come. Plus (unintelligible). We won't let this go.
KENYON: In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had spoken to her Bahraini counterpart and conveyed that the U.S. strongly opposes the use of violence and hopes that tomorrow's funerals and Friday prayers will not be marred by more bloodshed. Right now that seems a very open question.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.
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