Bahrain protests spread, 100s hurt

2011-03-13 22:34

Manama - Bahraini police firing tear gas and rubber bullets clashed with demonstrators trying to occupy Manama's banking centre on Sunday, as protests spread to the strategic Gulf state's business hub, witnesses said.

They said tear gas and rubber bullets were used against about 350 activists who had sealed off the capital's Financial Harbour business complex with road blocks and a human chain.

Hospital sources said around 200 people were hurt in the violence, mainly from inhaling tear gas. Three of those being treated were in critical condition, including one with severe head injuries.

The interior ministry said 14 policemen were injured.

The United States condemned the violence. "We urge the government of Bahrain to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney.

Crown Prince Salman, meanwhile, reiterated the government's offer of a national dialogue on deep-rooted reforms but not at the expense of Bahrain's security and stability, state news agency BNA reported.

Prince Salman said he supports the creation of a parliament with full powers, and he also pledged to tackle naturalisation, administrative and financial corruption, and sectarian tensions.


But he warned that "legitimate demands should not be carried out at the price of security and stability".

A video uploaded on Sunday to YouTube purports to show Bahraini riot police shooting an unarmed protester in the head at point-blank range with a tear gas round.

The man appears to be remonstrating with helmeted riot police when they shoot him twice from just metres away - once in the body and, when he tries to get up, a second time in the face.

The user who posted the 33-second "face-to-face shooting" clip claims it was filmed during Sunday's unrest in Manama, but the authenticity of the video could not immediately be verified.

Elsewhere on Sunday, regime loyalists armed with knives and clubs fought students at the university. "The regime is using thugs," said Khalil Marzooq, a member of Bahrain's main Shi'ite opposition group.

Police also fired tear gas at protesters occupying Pearl Square, the epicentre of the protests located a short distance from the financial district, witnesses said.

Bahrain - home of the US Fifth Fleet - has become a regional financial hub as it seeks to diversify its economy away from a dependence on diminishing oil revenues.

King Hamad also reiterated an offer of dialogue with the main opposition groups, which have refused to negotiate until the government resigns and dissidents are released from jail.

National consensus

"I call all parties to meet quickly around the table and be open-minded and well-intentioned to reach a national consensus," he said, quoted by BNA.

Crown Prince Salman, who joined King Hamad at talks on Saturday with visiting US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, has urged protesters to enter talks without laying down conditions.

"I'm hopeful that they will join the dialogue without preconditions. We have given them the best deal they can hope for," Salman told reporters after the meeting.

Protests in Shi'ite-majority Bahrain, which has been ruled by a Sunni dynasty for more than 200 years, erupted after popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia ousted those countries' long-time autocratic rulers.

The main opposition groups have stopped short of demanding the toppling of the king, but more extreme hard liners have been vocal in calling for the end of monarchy.

Gates said he told Bahrain's leaders - who have promised to create jobs and provide more cheap housing - to quickly adopt far-reaching reforms or risk being swamped by the tide of democratic change sweeping the Arab world.

"I told both the king and the crown prince that across the region I did not believe there could be a return to the status quo ante," he told reporters after the talks.

Meanwhile, Bahrain's main trade union announced an open-ended strike from Sunday in protest at the use of force against demonstrators.