Roundup from the ground in Bahrain

Wednesday (Feb16)

… Almost forgetting the violence of the previous two days, Wednesday night ended with scenes of jubilation at a camp set up at Pearl Roundabout (described as ‘Bahrain’s Tahrir Square’ or ‘Pearl Square’), and also, like ‘Tahrir Square’ is in fact a landmark roundabout at a central intersection in Manama. After two days of demonstrations, two protesters killed by riot police, and a televised apology from the king, some thousands gathered at the Pearl roundabout (in no official coalition) but with demands including a new constitution, a new cabinet without the current Prime Minister (Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, uncle of the current king) who has been in power since Bahrain’s independence in 1971), the release of political prisoners, an end to political naturalisation, and more jobs and housing for Bahrainis.

Thursday (Feb17)

… woke to horrific news that the Pearl Square (“دوار لؤلؤ بي مسمى ميدان لتحرير الان”) had been ambushed in the night. During my sombre and enraged drive to work (many maintained a ‘business as usual’ policy in order to show support to the regime) I could only imagine the fear and horror of those who awoke to the siege carried out by riot police, in which at least 4 people were killed. The protest camp included families, and according to those present, some were asleep in their tents when a massive deployment of riot police besieged them from two directions. A live twitter feed of the event reads as follows;

Riot police reportedly shot tear gas, birdshot and live rounds at protesters and then chased them as they escaped the roundabout – eye witnesses described splatters of blood on cars and tear gas canisters littering the streets of the nearby area Qufool. Riot police also attack ABC News reporter Miguel Marquez during a live feed to correspondents in the US, to the embarrassment of the Bahraini regime. After the attack, at least 60 people are said to be missing and 3 dead (*this is an extremely graphic image). The Interior Ministry later releases a statement claiming that they ‘cleared’ the area after ‘trying all opportunities for dialogue’. Speaking to BBC Radio, leader of a liberal opposition party Ibrahim Sharif says that the events are bad for everybody; “Now there will be no restraints on the people. They will not listen to anyone.”

Interviews at Salmaniya hospital (Bahrain’s main public hospital) where the injured were taken indicate that doctors, paramedics, and nurses were also attacked at the scene, including one doctor who was hospitalised himself after allegedly being tied up and beaten by police. Reports then surfaced that the riot police were forcibly preventing ambulances from arriving at Pearl roundabout. Doctors and nurses staged a demonstration at the hospital some 8 hours after the attack, apparently in response to the health minister’s decision to withhold ambulances from the injured. AFP reporter Hadeel AlShalchi describes, “Hospital was chaotic, protesters chanting outside, dozens bleeding from head, broken limbs, exhibit birdshot wounds”. Hours after the attack, doctors and nurses stage a demonstration in the hospital grounds, protesting against an alleged decision by the Health Minister to withhold ambulances from the injured. Al Wefaq, the largest opposition bloc in Parliament suspends its participation in protest at police brutality. Head of the government created National Human Rights Committee, Abdullah Al Derazi, resigns from his post in protest at the government’s actions. Rumours then surface that the Health Minister Faisal Al Hamer, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nezar Al Baharna and Majeed Al Alawi resign in protest, but these are later calleddenied. Later in the day, in an unprecedented move, tanks are deployed around Pearl roundabout. An extraordinary meeting of GCC Foreign Ministers is held in Manama.

Friday (Feb18)

The mood is already grim as the day starts. Although demonstrations have been forbidden by the Interior Ministry, Friday will bring a funeral march for those killed at Lulu roundabout on Thursday, and also, an ill-timed (to say the least) pro-government rally (which, in yet another seriously questionable move, appears to have been given official sanction). At the funeral, which is attending by thousands, people are much more angry and calls are now being made for an end to the rule of the Al Khalifa regime. Meanwhile, state TV is broadcasting pictures of the ‘pro-government rally’ (better described as the anti-reform rally). The area around Al Fateh mosque is also filled with thousands of people (although, from reports and footage seems much smaller than the funeral demonstration) waving flags and honking the horns of their (many expensive) cars. AFP reporter tweets that pictures of the king and t-shirts are being given out, and that that up to 50% in attendance are expatriatess; unconfirmed reports suggest that participants include youth from neighbouring GCC states (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are connected by a causeway).

The afternoon is quiet though extremely tense until demonstrators approach the Pearl roundabout and in an indescribably horrific turn, the army fires live rounds at the people. It really is better to read one of the reports in the media; or see one of the many youtubevideos being circulated. Again, disaster at Salmaniya hospital with staff and services overwhelmed and Bahraini doctors pleas on international TV to protect Bahrainis (and no offer from the Bahrain Defence Force, other main public hospital to take injured). Again, ambulances reportedly prevented from transporting the wounded and Salmaniya hospital becomes the site of angry protests. Painfully timed, shortly after the incident the Crown Prince appears on TV urging ‘calm’. In the only good news of the day, a member of the police defects, and is raised up by cheering crowds at Salmaniya hospital.

Saturday (Feb19)

Bahrain is in shock. At least one of the demonstrators from Thursday’s attack will die; he has a bullet in his head. Little by little, mild, temperately worded and ineffectual international reactions have been filtering in; criticisms from the US (including a statement that ‘we always urge concessions’ made by the former US ambassador to the UAE on Al Jazeera International’), UK, EU and Ban Ki Moon, as well as more meaningful action in the UK with the reported revoking of arms licenses selling weapons to Bahrain. Bahrain is in the top 4 news stories of every major network, but there is very little humanisation of those killed in reports, although I guess this is in part due to the conditions (rapidly changing) and time (little) in which things are happening. There are also more reports today about media repression, including the 15-hour detention of a BBC producer. In what seems long overdue, a call goes out from the Bahrain Labour Federation for a general strike – although it is immediately followed with reports of threats to workers that they will face serious action if they do not show up. By afternoon, the army was withdrawn from the streets and by evening, there are jubilant scenes of protestors ‘re-taking’ Pearl roundabout.

Towards the end of the day the crown prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa makes a speech after apparently holding private talks with opposition figures. He apologises to the families of those killed and injured, says that how the army came to attack its own citizens should be looked into, and calls for dialogue ‘with everyone’. Later at Pearl roundabout, speeches were made and protesters are said to be formulating a list of demands…

For a recent summary, see http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2052771,00.html

And a more nuanced explanation of the over-used ‘Sunni/Shia’ tags used to explain the uprising in Bahrainhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12510791 or

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12508082

Finally, for some interesting and arresting pics of recent days in Bahrain and Sana’a: http://totallycoolpix.com/2011/02/new-protests-in-arab-states/

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