Bahrain Protesters Stay Put Despite Foreign Troops
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Weeks of demonstrations in Bahrain haven't just made the monarch of that country nervous, the protests have also rattled the royal rulers of its neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Armed forces from both those countries rolled into Bahrain yesterday at the request of Bahrain's royal family. But, despite that show of force, demonstrators refused to abandon their protest site in the capital. And today, the king of Bahrain declared a state of emergency. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in the capital, Manama, and joined us on the line. Tell us a little, first of all, about this state of emergency.
FRANK LANGFITT: Well, he announced it a couple of hours ago. And the king authorized the Bahrain defense forces to quote, take all necessary measures to protect the safety of the country and its citizens.
So that certainly sounds like really broad leeway. There weren't a lot of details. People think that there will, at a minimum, be a curfew. And they also think this is really a sign of a crackdown that's coming. And he also said that this state of emergency would last for three months.
MONTAGNE: What is, then, the response on the streets? I know you can look down at the Pearl Traffic Circle from where you're talking to us, and see what was the spot where everybody was demonstrating.
LANGFITT: Well, there's been a lot of disappointment. I was actually over at an opposition party's headquarters today when the news came out, and everybody jumped from their seats and went out to watch the television. And they seemed very disappointed. They have been hoping some sort of negotiation, but they've been driving a very hard bargain also with the ruling family, because there's a lot of mistrust here, over the years, about the ruling family's willingness to really create a constitutional monarchy, a true democracy here on the island. They saw this as a sign that the country was headed for a lot more violence. And the whole reaction, certainly there, was very sober.
Right now, looking out on the Pearl Traffic Circle, things are very calm. There are people actually marching to the Saudi embassy to complain about Saudi Troops. And things are calm here, but we're hearing in other places, they're not good at all.
MONTAGNE: And I gather that a Saudi soldier has been shot to death by a protester. Does that have any potential to spark a reaction by these troops?
LANGFITT: The Associated Press - yes. The Associated Press is reporting -security forces out of Cairo, that a soldier was shot, here, by a protester. I haven't seen any confirmation of that. But if that is true, it might be one reason why things are being ratcheted up so much more. Although, candidly, the protesters and the government have been on a collision course, really, for, you know, weeks.
MONTAGNE: What is the security situation, then, on the streets right now?
LANGFITT: Apparently, quite bad. I've been getting - just before you and I started talking, I was getting lots of calls from protesters I've met over the last week or so. They were calling from hospitals. And they say that in certain Shiite neighborhoods - the Shiites are the main protesters here, they're the majority. And they say that plainclothes policemen have been coming into the neighborhood and opening fire on people with shotguns - and in some cases, directed by helicopters. I spoke to two protesters who called me from hospital scenes. One said, we're in a battle scene and she'd just seen someone who'd actually had their head shot off. None of this is confirmed by the government. I tried to call the government earlier today and could not get through. But we're hearing it now from quite a number of people - protesters who are back home in their neighborhoods and at the hospitals, where there's apparently been a lot of injuries.
MONTAGNE: And do you have any sense of what is next?
LANGFITT: I'm looking out at the Pearl roundabout right now. I would expect, some time in the next day or so, maybe earlier, that the police will come here and they will probably try to clear it. If they've issued a state of emergency, that gives them a lot of leeway to come in here. And I think people - that's the next thing people are bracing for, when the police may come here and try to clear the area.
MONTAGNE: I've been talking to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Manama, Bahrain. Thanks very much, Frank.
LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Renee.
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