Police Open Fire On Protesters In Bahrain

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Host Michele Norris speaks with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof about the protests in the Bahraini capital of Manama, and the violent government crackdown that left at least five dead Thursday.


Another deadly clash today in the capitol of Bahrain. Security forces once again opened fire on anti-government protesters as thousands gathered in the streets for a funeral procession for demonstrators killed yesterday.

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof has been reporting and tweeting from Bahrain all week. And he joins us on the line now. Mr. Kristof, what have you been seeing today and where exactly are you right now?

Mr. NICK KRISTOF (Columnist, New York Times): Well, there was a very large demonstration that began as a funeral procession and then the marchers decided to go and approach the Pearl Roundabout, which had been the center of the movement. And there were a lot of young people there nervous about what they were doing. But there were no troops directly in front of them. There was no warning, not even tear gas fired and, all of a sudden, police and army opened fire on them.

When ambulances arrived to pick up the injured, four of the ambulances were, in fact, seized and the staff detained. I was actually at the hospital interviewing casualties in the earlier attack when all of a sudden the casualties from this attack began pouring in and it was complete pandemonium. And on top of it, a different group of police attacked protesters right near the hospital, so you had tear gas wafting in, protesters rushing through to try to escape the police. It was complete chaos.

NORRIS: When the security forces opened fire today, live rounds or rubber bullets?

Mr. KRISTOF: I mean, frankly, the doctors weren't really sure. And to some extent, the answer seemed to depend a little bit on their politics. Some insisted that it was live rounds. I did not see much evidence of that. And those that were extracted were rubber bullets.

There were two x-rays that I saw that seemed to probably show metal bullets, one inside a person's skull and other inside a person's leg. But I'm no radiologist and the doctors looking at the x-rays, they themselves weren't 100 percent sure what they were seeing.

NORRIS: Nick Kristof, you know that the demands of the protesters seemed to have changed, in part, over this week because of the heavy-handed response, in some cases, the deadly response from the government. How did those demands evolve and what are the protesters now calling for?

Mr. KRISTOF: Well, there's been a long-term democracy movement bubbling here in Bahrain. But in the past, people wanted a little more democracy but not actually demanding very much. But when they watched people being killed for peacefully demanding a little more participation, then that really enraged them. And so, increasingly what you're hearing is calls for the entire government to be overthrown and for the king to step down.

NORRIS: What does all this mean for the U.S.? Bahrain is more than just a military ally. It's in some ways served as a beacon for reform in the region as well.

Mr. KRISTOF: President Obama, I believe, expressed deep concern about what happened today and I must say, when I heard that, my heart sank a little bit. I think, you know, deep concern is what you express about a budget deficit. When your ally shoots unarmed citizens in cold blood, then it seems to me that maybe something a little angrier should be - you know, deep condemnation might be more appropriate than deep concern.

But the challenge for the U.S. is that this is the home base for the 5th Fleet. And the royal family keeps warning us and whispering in anybody's ear who will listen, that if democracy arrives, then the 5th Fleet is going to go, that Bahrain will become an Iranian satellite. I find zero evidence to support that and there is a danger that we calculate too much and turn the Islamist bogeymen into something that becomes real impediment to democracy and becomes an excuse for a government's brutality towards its own people.

NORRIS: Nick Kristof is a columnist for The New York Times. Mr. Kristof, thank you very much for making time for us. Be safe.

Mr. KRISTOF: My pleasure.

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