A day after declaring an emergency, security forces in Bahrain have unleashed a full-scale crackdown, backed by tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters, to crush what essentially has so far been a pro-democracy revolt in the Kingdom.
Surrounding them from all sides, with armoured vehicles and gun-mounted jeeps, troops in the early hours on Wednesday, assaulted protesters entrenched at Pearl Roundabout, now the famous symbol of the Bahraini rebellion. The teargas and rubber bullets’ barrage was so fierce that it set ablaze large parts of the area, especially rows of tents, which had for nearly a month sheltered the protesters, first seeking a constitutional monarchy, but now increasing demanding the emergence e of Bahrain as a Republic. For hours the fires burnt, sending plumes of black smoke wafting in the sky. Riot police fought the flames with water cannons that are more conventionally used for breaking protests.
In the face of the massive show of state-power, the protesters withdrew from the Square, but not before two people had been killed.
Reuters reported that three policemen had also died during the clashes.
Unlike the mid-February attack on Pearl Roundabout, the Bahrain security forces, apparently emboldened by the arrival on Monday of nearly 2000, Saudi-Arabia-led forces, had done their homework.
Activists said they quickly sealed the Salmaniya hospital compound, which in the earlier instance had become the standby opposition hub, after Pearl Roundabout had been overrun. Doctors said that police had entered the hospital, sealed the gates and prevented ambulances for bringing in those injured during the clashes-a charge that Bahraini authorities later denied.
Al Jazeera later quoted a doctor at the Budaiya health centre, on the outskirts of capital Manama that “streams of casualties” had arrived in private cars as access to Salmaniya hospital, and among others had been blocked.
Targeting the village of Budaiya, another opposition concentration, Bahraini authorities, soon after day-break rolled out a convoy of heavy vehicles, including tanks along the Budaiya highway, which heads in the direction of the Saudi border.
But responding spiritedly to the intimidation, the “Youth movement" in Bahrain, an opposition coalition decided to organise on Wednesday afternoon, a protest march along Budaiya highway.
Analysts say that the opposition has decided that it would combat the government’s military power not with violence, but moral ascendancy, acquired through persistence with peaceful protests. On Tuesday, a peaceful opposition demonstration to protest against Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Bahrain, ended after protesters placed bouquets at the Saudi embassy, their destination for the day.
Wary of sectarian stigmatisation, the opposition, especially the popular Haq party, is consciously projecting a Bahraini national agenda, well supported by several Sunnis and Leftists that are part of the group.
But the opposition’s will to uphold non-violence is being challenged, as attacks, apparently through state-sponsored forces in plain-clothes, have escalated in the impoverished Shia stronghold of Sitra, a few kilometers outside Manama. Doctors said that two people were overnight killed in this village, where youth have now been provoked to arm themselves with sticks and iron rods.
The crackdown on Wednesday, has led Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to describe the assault as a "foul and doomed experience. “In neighbouring Iraq, the Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called for protests in Baghdad and Basra to "support the Bahraini people and to denounce and condemn the murdering of innocent revolutionaries".
As the regime cracks down, with several Pakistan- origin troops that are within the ranks of its armed forces, Pakistani nationals are fearing that they could become victims of opposition vendetta.
Over the last two days, around 13 Pakistanis have been attacked by “thugs armed with swords, sticks and other weapons,” Bahrain’s English newspaper Gulf Daily News is reporting. The Pakistan Club in Bahrain is sheltering more than 250 workers, who have pulled out of their accommodation in Manama as a measure of precaution.