Bahrain Soldiers, Police Storm Into Protesters' Camp
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Let's go now to the Middle East now, to Bahrain, where this morning security forces unleashed a major crackdown on protestors. They fired tear gas and rubber bullets as they drove demonstrators from the traffic circle where protestors have been camped out for weeks. The government has now imposed an overnight curfew, starting at 4:00 p.m. each day.
As in other Arab countries, Bahrain's rulers have faced unprecedented challenge from protestors. Today's action was seen as the biggest effort yet to crush the protests, and NPR's Frank Langfitt describes the scene.
FRANK LANGFITT: A whole line of armored personnel carriers and even some tanks pulled in here a little after dawn - I saw them about 6 o'clock in the morning - and maybe four or five hundred police marched down a highway to the traffic circle and confronted the protestors. And then they were firing tear gas and they pushed them out of the traffic circle fairly quickly.
The protestors retreated through some of the side streets and then the police were going after them, chasing them, basically, through open lots.
MONTAGNE: You know, it's been a big deal there for protestors that neighboring Saudi Arabia sent in tanks. Are they - are any of their troops or tanks being used?
LANGFITT: Well, no. The tanks actually hung back and they didn't need them. They pushed these folks from the square actually fairly quickly. I was talking to somebody who is in a Shiite neighborhood today who said they saw Saudi vehicles moving around. But it's not clear that we've seen Saudi troops actually, you know, confronting the demonstrators directly.
MONTAGNE: So, so far it's the troops of the government, the monarchy. And what were other people telling you there in the traffic circle?
LANGFITT: Well, I went up during the confrontation and I got up about a block from the circle, but there was tons of tear gas. And I was talking to some guys who had been overwhelmed by it. And, you know, they had - all they had were boards and pipes to sort of try to fend off the police.
And one I guy I talked to about it - he said his name is Allah - he said where's the U.S. and where is the United Kingdom? And they were kind of angry about not getting more support from the West. They said, you know, the Western countries supported uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya. But because this involved Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf oil, Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, they felt that the United States was taking a much more pragmatic approach and not directly supporting the demonstrators.
MONTAGNE: Well, the fact that it is the home to the Fifth Fleet, Bahrain, would suggest it's of great interest though to the United States government.
LANGFITT: Absolutely. This is a very crucial area. Of course, we're right on -I'm actually, you know, looking out on the Persian Gulf right now. There is where a tremendous amount of oil flows. Saudi Arabia is an extremely close ally. It's very clear that Saudi Arabia is very frightened, that the moves here for a more democratic system could spark more unrest over in the kingdom, just a short drive away across a causeway.
And that's why the Saudis sent in troops yesterday, as a show of force, and because they didn't want things getting worse here in Bahrain.
MONTAGNE: So what is happening in the rest of the city and what do you expect to come next?
LANGFITT: Well, I think that - I just got a call from someone that I know from one Shiite neighborhood, and he said that the place is on lockdown. The Shiites, as you know, they've been the ones who've been protesting, they're the majority here in Bahrain, but they complain about a lot of discrimination and they want to see a more democratic system. And this person I talked to said you cannot go out of your house without getting shot at. He says you're not allowed to show your face.
So there's a lot of fear in Shiite neighborhoods. And I think what people expect is that the police may now go to these strongholds of the protestors, go to their homes, and they actually did yesterday - there was a lot of fighting in neighborhoods as well - and begin sort of mass arrests of the people who have been responsible for the protests over these last five weeks.
MONTAGNE: Frank, thank you very much. We've been talking with NPR's Frank Langfitt, who witnessed today's crackdown by Bahrain's security forces on protestors in the capital, Manama.
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