Bahrain Arrests Opposition Activists
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Police in Bahrain continued their crackdown today, arresting six opposition political leaders and battling renewed protests in city neighborhoods. In response, the country's largest opposition party, Wefaq, said Saudi troops should leave the island.
NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Bahrain's capital, Manama.
FRANK LANGFITT: Hassan Mushaima runs Haq, a hard-line, anti-government party. Today, he's in police custody; so is Ibrahim Shariff, who leads Waad, a leftist party pushing for democratic change.
Mr. MATAR MATAR (Spokesman, Al-Wefaq Party): The future is dark.
LANGFITT: Matar Matar is a former member of parliament, with Wefaq, the biggest party challenging the government. He says the regime's attack on demonstrators yesterday shows it has no interest in addressing the island's deep political problems.
Mr. MATAR: Part of the ruling family, their agenda is to solve issues through violence.
LANGFITT: Demonstrators have spent most of the past five weeks demanding an open political system and an end to religious discrimination. Shiite Muslims are the majority here, but Sunni Muslims, including the royal family, run the show.
Saudi troops, who are fellow Sunnis, drove into Bahrain earlier this week to help break the rebellion. Matar says the U.S., which has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, should pressure them to leave.
Mr. MATAR: United States, they need to condemn the entrance of the Saudi troops and ask the Saudis to roll back their troops. They need to say it clearly.
LANGFITT: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has deplored the use of force in Bahrain. She's also urged Saudi Arabia to use restraint but has not told the country to pull out.
The streets of Manama were quieter today after violence Wednesday that left at least seven dead and hundreds injured. A few dozen people staged a protest near the neighborhood of Sanabis.
The demonstration quickly drew military helicopters and an attack by police, according to opposition sources. Residents in Sanabis, a Shiite Muslim community, said police stormed their neighborhood as part of yesterday's crackdown.
Ahmed al-Mulla(ph), a civil engineer, was among those manning the barricades.
Mr. AHMED AL-MULLA (Civil Engineer): First of all, they start shooting by tear gas and sound bomb. Then, they start shooting by live bullet.
LANGFITT: And shotguns.
Al-Mulla says residents fled into the backstreets.
Mr. AL-MULLA: And the police, they start running after them. Even when they are run away, they start shooting on them. That's why so many people injured.
LANGFITT: With roads closed, the local Mullah Isa Mosque(ph) became a field hospital with members helping to dress wounds. Ali Mirza Marhoon, who works in an aluminum plant, pitched in. He says the cops didn't just try to disperse the crowd, they aimed their shotguns high.
Mr. ALI MIRZA MARHOON: It's only in the face and the chest and back. We don't see injuries in legs.
LANGFITT: Most of Bahrain's police are foreigners, including Sunnis from Pakistan. Many Shia consider them mercenaries.
The government says the protesters are not as peaceful as they seem. The regime blamed them for driving over and killing two cops yesterday.
With all the violence, helping the wounded has been a big problem. This morning, reporters visited two health centers that the government had shut down in the midst of the attacks. At one, a security guard, who only gave his first name of Salah(ph), said some patients were forced to go to other hospitals, and others were taken in by residents nearby.
LANGFITT: Why did they close the hospital?
SALAH: Because they don't want anybody to help these people injured.
LANGFITT: Bahrain's minister of health, a Shiite Muslim, resigned in protest yesterday over the government's crackdown on various hospitals.
Doctors at the International Hospital of Bahrain said police fired on a waiting room full of patients yesterday with shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets. The physicians say the police even shot someone who was delivering wounded by car.
Today, you could still see the dried blood at the hospital's gate.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Manama, Bahrain.
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