Dozens Wounded In Clashes In Bahrain

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In the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, there was another escalation in violence Friday as troops used live ammunition to prevent demonstrators from returning to Pearl Roundabout, which was the focal point of the protests until government forces seized it Thursday. Medical workers say at least 50 people were wounded, some critically, in Friday's violence. Bahrain's crown prince has called for calm and dialogue.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And reports of violence are growing in the midst of anti-government demonstrations in the Middle East. In this part of the program, we'll head to the northern African country of Libya and to the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

In Bahrain, in the city of Manama, troops used live ammunition to prevent demonstrators from returning to a public space called the Pearl Roundabout. That was the focal point of the protest until government forces took control of the area.

Medical workers say at least 50 people were wounded, some critically. Bahrain's crown prince is calling for calm and dialogue.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is there, and he has our report.

PETER KENYON: A crowd of mainly Shiite Bahrainis milled about after four long emotional funerals for protesters killed yesterday. Some went home. Others headed for the Salmaniya hospital where wounded demonstrators have been treated.

At a main intersection, the line of mourners turned demonstrators suddenly veered left, away from the hospital and toward Pearl Roundabout, where the security forces and military waited for them.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language).

KENYON: By this time, the women had melted away, and the men advanced toward the Roundabout chanting salmiya, salmiya - peaceful, peaceful.

As the first rows of men neared the Roundabout, it quickly became clear that the army was under orders to make sure they did not reclaim their would-be Tahrir Square.

(Soundbite of gunfire)

KENYON: The crowd bolted back down the avenue, which offered very little cover. A man ran up warning that these weren't rubber bullets but live ammunition fired by the Bahrain Defense Forces, or BDF, on its own citizens.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of gunfire)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: A gray-haired man in a dark tunic with blood-smeared hands mimed how he had tried to apply pressure to a young man's skull after he took a bullet to the head.

Another man, Said Muhammad Kamel(ph), struggled to explain in English what he'd seen. Finally, dropping to one knee and aiming an imaginary rifle to show how the soldiers faced the unarmed crowd.

Mr. SAID MUHAMMAD KAMEL: There's many people standing like this and shout, shout and from building also. No. We did not make anything. We said salmiya, salmiya, salmiya only.

KENYON: Bahrain's king asked the Crown Prince Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa to start a nationwide dialogue with all parties in the kingdom, according to the official news agency. There was no immediate response from opposition parties.

The shooting overshadowed a rare bright spot for the government. Earlier in the day, thousands of people turned out in support of the king outside Manama's grand mosque, not far from where the U.S. military base is located.

This was a far more prosperous mostly Sunni crowd. Many stayed in their flag-draped SUVs and honked. But others gathered to co-opt the anti-government chant: The people want to bring down the government. This version which sounds nearly identical translates as the people want to support the government.

Unidentified Group: (Speaking foreign language).

KENYON: A woman named Fauz(ph) spoke for many in the crowd when she said the protesters had gone too far. She also cited a state television report that claimed weapons had been found in the Roundabout after it had been cleared out Thursday morning.

FAUZ: So it wasn't a peaceful protest. They were planning on doing something and they got caught. And the government allowed them to grieve and mourn the death of one of them. But enough is enough.

KENYON: But the most respected Shiite cleric in Bahrain used his Friday prayer sermon to condemn the government crackdowns and to pose a stark choice for his followers.

Unidentified Man: (Through Translator) We have come to a situation choosing between full surrender to what the government wants and being absolute slaves to it or risk massacre after massacre against us.

KENYON: There are still those who hope for another alternative, one with a peaceful and satisfactory ending. But it's not clear what that would entail.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.

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