|AL Jazeera Middle East|
Curfew enforced, several dead and hundreds injured as security forces use tanks and helicopters to quash protests.
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2011 13:25
At least six people are reported dead and hundreds injured after security forces in Bahrain drove out pro-democracy protesters from the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama.
A 12-hour curfew came into force at 4pm in areas of the city including the Pearl Roundabout, the Bahrain Financial Harbour, and several other buildings which have recently been targets of protests.
By then, most of the area had been cleared after troops backed by tanks and helicopters stormed the site - the focal point of weeks-long anti-government protests in the tiny kingdom - early on Wednesday, an Al Jazeera correspondent said.
Multiple explosions were heard and smoke was seen billowing over central Manama.
Hospital sources said three protesters had been killed and hundreds of others injured in the offensive, the Reuters news agency reported. Three policemen were also reported dead.
Our correspondent said the police backed by the military attacked the protesters from all sides and used tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd.
Protesters, intimidated by the numbers of security forces, retreated from the roundabout, he said. By 5pm the area was quiet, although a few people remained on the streets. A helicopter circled overhead.
Doctors and witnesses at the city's main Salmaniya hospital have told Al Jazeera that they have been "besieged" by security forces.
"We are besieged here since the morning. No one can get in or out of the hospital as a result of the conflict at the Roundabout. Bahraini army, police and Saudi security are using tanks to prevent people from entering. There are also other forces I cannot identify in civilian clothing ... There is a large number of injured, over 400 people, including women and children," Abdul Mohamed, an eyewitness, told Al Jazeera.
Dr Nehad Shirawi, the head of the intensive care unit at the hospital told Al Jazeera via telephone: "We are scared to get out of the hospital. We don't think its safe to go out and we don't know what to do ... We are phyiscally and mentally exhausted and I don't think we'll be able to continue to attend to patients in this way. We need to be replaced by other doctors so we can go home and rest."
Bahrain's youth movement had called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday afternoon but it was unclear whether protesters planned to regroup elsewhere in the city.
Bahrain's main opposition Wefaq party has called off protests, saying it is too dangerous to continue. There are fears that a small gathering could result in a high level of casualties, our correspondent said.
Wefaq has advised people since this morning to avoid confrontation with security forces and to remain peaceful," a Wefaq official told Reuters.
Ali Al Aswad, a Wafaq member, told Al Jazeera that the government used Apache helicopters to shoot at peaceful protesters.
He said the situation was very bad and Bahrain was heading towards a disaster. "The security forces are killing the people, we call upon UN to help us," Aswad said.
State of emergency
The move by the security forces came a day after a state of emergency was declared on the island and at least two people were killed in clashes in the Shia suburb of Sitra outside Manama.
An order by the king "authorised the commander of Bahrain's defence forces to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of the country and its citizens," a statement read out on television on Tuesday said.
It was not immediately clear if Wednesday's security crackdown involved Saudi troops.
Syed Al Alawi, a witness, told Al Jazeera that troops were surrounding the Salmania hospital and not allowing doctors and nurses to enter.
Calling for help, Alawi said: "The GCC troops are for fighting against foreign forces, instead they are targeting the people of Bahrain. What's our fault, we are asking for our legitimate rights."
At least 500 protesters have been camping at the Pearl Roundabout in central Manama as part of their demonstration.
The small kingdom with a dominant Shia majority has been swept by protests over the last several weeks. The protesters, alleging discrimination and lack of rights, are seeking political reforms.
The arrival of foreign troops followed a request to members of the GCC from Bahrain.
The United Arab Emirates also sent about 500 police to Bahrain, according to Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister. Qatar, meanwhile, did not rule out the possibility of its troops joining the force.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister and foreign minister, told Al Jazeera: "There are common responsibilities and obligations within the GCC countries.
The US, which counts both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia among its allies, has called for restraint, but has refrained from saying whether it supports the move to deploy troops.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, who was speaking in Egypt, said Bahrainis must "take steps now" towards a political resolution of the crisis. She also warned that Bahrain and its Gulf allies were on the "wrong track".
Iran, meanwhile, has warned against "foreign interference".
"The peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain are among the domestic issues of this country, and creating an atmosphere of fear and using other countries' military forces to oppress these demands is not the solution," Hossein Amir Abdollahian, an official from the Iranian foreign ministry, was reported by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency as saying.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has spoken out against military intervention by Bahrain's Gulf allies.
"This will contribute towards complicating the situation in the region in a way that instead of solving it could lead to inflaming sectarian tension," he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top-ranked Shia cleric, who rarely makes statements regarding politics, has also weighed in, calling on Bahraini authorities to "stop using violence against unarmed citizens", Hamed al-Khafaf, his spokesman, said.
Meanwhile, in Baghdad, several thousand protesters gathered in cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's stronghold of Sadr City waving Bahraini and Iraqi flags. Basheer al-Najafi, another senior Shia cleric in Najaf, also condemned the Bahraini crackdown.