Bahrain locks down as uprising surges

2011-03-16 22:28

Manama - Soldiers and riot police in Bahrain overran a protesters' camp, imposed a 12-hour curfew and choked off movement nationwide on Wednesday.

Witnesses described helicopters firing on homes in a hunt for Shi'ites and attacking doctors treating the wounded, while the government called the demonstrators "outlaws" for demanding an end to the monarchy.

The nation that once led the Middle East in entrepreneurial openness went into lockdown, its government propped up by troops from Sunni Gulf neighbours fearful for their own rule and the spread of Shi'ite Iran's influence.

The unrest that began last month increasingly looks like a sectarian showdown: The country's Sunni leaders are desperate to hold power and majority Shi'ites want more rights and an end to their dynasty.

Wednesday's assault began in Pearl Square, the centre of the uprising inspired by Arab revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

The violence, however, left at least five people dead on Wednesday and it did not stop in the capital.

Doctors at the country's main hospital said their facility was taken over by security forces, effectively blocking physicians from either leaving or treating the wounded on-site.

The king's announcement of a three-month emergency rule and the crackdown on Pearl Square sent a message that authorities would  strike back in the strategic island nation, which hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

President Barack Obama called King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain to express deep concern over the violence.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Obama stressed the need for "maximum restraint."

Security forces barred journalists and others from moving freely.

A 16:00 to 04:00 curfew was imposed in most of the country.

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