[The following is part of a series of email reports from Jadaliyya affiliates in Manama. They will be updated regularly to reflect the latest developments in Bahrain.]
Friday March 11, 2011
Thousands of protesters marched towards the King`s Court in Riffa, an area where many members of the royal family live. The march was stopped at a barricade constructed by the police, backed up by a small BDF (Bahrain Defence Force) presence at a clock tower on the road leading to the royal court.
Pro-government individuals, including members of Parliament, and what appears to be baltajiyya (thugs) were also stationed behind the barricade, many carrying makeshift weapons including sticks and swords. Much consternation has been expressed about the fact that on February 17 the Pearl roundabout was raided by police, who killed 4 demonstrators, allegedly because protesters had weapons - while on Friday government loyalists carried weapons in broad daylight with the silent complicity of security personnel.
Feb14 youth group states (@twitter.com/onlinebahrain) that they will begin a campaign of civil disobedience on Sunday if the Royal Court march is attacked.
According to the Financial Times, clashes erupted when government loyalists began throwing rocks at protesters, leading to retaliatory rock throwing, after which, according to the Ministry of Interior, a small group of demonstrators attempted to breach the barricade.
Protesters were then dispersed with tear gas, and consequent reports claimed that pro-government personnel followed demonstrators into the nearby village of Aali, where they smashed cars and attacked protesters; the reports of cars being smashed were independently verified and reported in the Wall Street Journal. A British journalist was also attacked, his camera stolen and car windows smashed. The Ministry of Health issued a statement declaring that seventeen patients were admitted to the Salmaniya Medical Complex for treatment; six with minor injuries and eleven remained under observation.
Saturday March 12, 2011
Thousands of protesters, including a large presence of women, marched from the village of Malkiya to the Safriya palace, where they were given dates and water by palace staff - in a move reminiscent of the US embassy`s handing out of donuts and juice to demonstrators.
Appropriate, then, that US Defense secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain, was greeted at the airport by Cabinet Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shaikh Khalid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, and then met with the King and Crown Prince. “Baby steps [are] not sufficient,” Gates said in a statement to the press. “Real reform [is] necessary.”
Bahrain`s Crown Prince was also quoted as saying, “a significant portion of the electoral base feels that their voice is unheard, and they want the respect due to them,” referring to the pro-government crowds. The repercussions of these talks are as yet unclear.
Sunday March 13, 2011
As per Friday`s statement, a campaign of civil disobedience began with the setting up of roadblocks across the highway in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbour (BFH). After some tussles with demonstrators, the police fired tear gas on them, dispersed the crowds, and dismantled the tents outside BFH. Police reportedly then followed protesters to Pearl roundabout and launched stun grenades and more tear gas, and possibly used live ammunition from the flyover.
Street battles between riot police and protesters ensued, with clear evidence of excessive force used by the police, including point blank range shooting of tear gas at an unarmed protester. Crowds surged to the Pearl roundabout, outnumbering police, who were then forced to withdraw. Injuries were sustained by pellet shots, and shots to the head and eye area, and the injured were taken to Salmaniya Medical Complex. Some on the scene reported the use of CS gas not used previously.
Meanwhile, news from the University of Bahrain - the country`s largest public university- emerged. Students staging pro-government and anti-government rallies were reported to have become involved in a confrontation. Videos then surfaced, showing anti-government demonstrators being attacked by government loyalists. Eyewitnesses reported that a number of vehicles carrying “baltajiyya,” many wearing balaclavas, entered campus, again with sticks and swords, and attacked protesters, many of whom locked themselves in the university mosque and classrooms for protection, with others forming a human chain around female students.
Buses of demonstrators from the Pearl roundabout then arrived on campus, and clashes ensued, followed shortly by a deployment of riot police who eventually carried out a raid to evacuate the campus. Many students were injured in the clashes, which according to all accounts except for those on Bahrain TV, were instigated by government loyalists. Again, the police took no visible action to disarm or control government loyalists marching through campus with sticks and swords. For a detailed eyewitness account of the events at the University of Bahrain, see here. In an official statement, university head Ibrahim Janahi suspended classes until further notice, citing `disruptive protests` and damage to property as the reasons.
The day continued with sporadic street battles and accounts of armed mobs and acts of vandalism (by government loyalists according to most reports) all over the country including Hamad Town, Bin Saloom Matam in Manama, the headquarters of Wa`ad political society in Muharraq, and Al Wasat (opposition) newspaper. Reports of civilians armed with guns and sticks in Riffa and the establishment of an army checkpoint between Aali and Riffa also surfaced.
The evening ended with massive crowds at Lulu, and it was announced that a number of “baltajiyya” have been caught and will be questioned. The road leading from the roundabout to the financial harbour is said to be blocked and under the control of demonstrators. An image was posted on the web, purporting to show an official document listing names of security personnel required to wear civilian clothing: cue the emergence of baltajiyya.
One Asian man died and another suffered critical injuries on Sunday, after they were allegedly attacked by youth carrying wooden planks and sticks in separate incidents in Manama. The same news source cites six other stabbings of Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers.
Although the perpetrators of violence have not been identified, the incident confirms fears that spillover from the government`s policies of using mercenaries against locals will result in indiscriminate attacks on Asian residents, and also that the general outbreak of mob violence will inevitably target bystanders, particularly workers who make up the most vulnerable portion of Bahraini society.
Hundreds of other casualties have been counted. One protester, 17-year-old Ali Demistani, has reportedly died - apparently after being hit by a police jeep, although full details are yet to emerge. Throughout the day, Bahrain TV ran incendiary, selective and factually lacking anti-protesters coverage, including an emotionally charged talk show featuring call-ins from the public and officials. One of the hosts purportedly called for GCC intervention in Bahrain on behalf of the state.
Amid rising fears about the deployment of Saudi troops in Bahrain, reporters were allegedly being asked to leave tomorrow (Monday), and The Economist writer Jane Kinninmont was denied entry into Bahrain.
The day ended with a statement by Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who repeated the same old statement that he is “ready for ‘dialogue` on:
1) An elected parliament with full vested powers and prerogatives;
2) A government reflecting the will of people;
3) Fairly-demarcated electoral constituencies;
5) Combating financial and administrative corruption;
6) State properties;
7) Addressing sectarian polarization and animosities, in addition to other principles and topics,”
but the Crown Prince added that "the right of security and safety is above all considerations."
For a concise historical overview of regime-opposition dynamics in Bahrain, see "Distorions of Dialogue."
[Also see our Notes from the Bahraini Field Update 1, Update 2, Update 3, and Update 4]