In the early hours of the morning on Wednesday March 16th, the Bahraini army attacked and “cleansed” (the word used on national TV was تطهير) the Pearl roundabout using helicopters, tear gas and live ammunition. Below is a first-hand account from a Human Rights Watch Correspondent in Bahrain:
"At 7.30 this morning I tried to go to Salmaniya hospital. But the whole area is surrounded by riot police diverting cars away from the area. I walked around for a little while trying to assess the situation. There were scattered gangs of youth covering their face on one of the main streets close to the hospital. There was tear gas in the area - I couldn`t tell if it was blowing over here from the Roundabout area or if police had fired tear gas close to Salmaniya. I could also see thick was black smoke coming from the area of the Roundabout. During the half-hour I was in the area I could hear sustained sounds: bangs, booms, and repetitive shots that might have been live ammunition rounds. There were also military helicopters flying very low overhead. I hitched a ride with an employee of the Ministry of Health who said he was on his way to Salmaniya, but he dropped me off close to one of the gates when he realized I was a foreigner. I saw him trying to drive into the hospital but riot police were there so he (and several other cars trying to get in) were forced to turn around. Not sure if he ever made it in.
I have been able to communicate with a doctor who has been at Salmaniya since last night. He says that security forces have surrounded the hospital and are not allowing ambulances to leave or get in to treat the casualties. Another medical staff person sent me pictures of riot police around the hospital. She says the people inside feel threatened by the police. It is not clear where authorities are taking the casualties or how many people have been killed or injured."
Salmaniya hospital is still reportedly under siege, with its staff being prevented from entering or leaving and those wounded being denied access to treatment. Five people have been reported dead, including two security personnel, and a twelve-hour curfew was announced from 4pm to 4am. An interior ministry press release from yesterday states that “squatters” were given ample time to leave, and then accused them of creating many ‘ambushes’ that resulted in the ‘martyrdom’ of two security personnel. Many protesters were thus arrested “for their hideous crimes.” Muted violence continued throughout the day, with tanks stationed at the entrance of the suburb of Budaiya opening fire on youth who were taunting them from a nearby road. There are reports of tanks stationed at the entrance of a number of ‘Shia villages.’
As part of its campaign against the opposition, Bahrain TV has been rising to the defense of ‘poor Asians,’ a number of whom have come under attack by civilians in the past week. The video link here shows two men who appear to be Pakistani being brought into Salmaniya Medical Complex. One of the men is handcuffed, and they are roughly taken out of the ambulance and escorted by security guards into the hospital as a bystander attacks one of them. It`s not clear who these men are, why they are handcuffed, or the reason for the attack, but it is heartening to note that voices among the opposition have spoken out against attacks on migrant workers.
Migrant workers are easily the most vulnerable segment of Bahraini society. They are afforded minimal legal protections due to a deeply flawed and protracted legal system and a generally weak application of the law. They bear the brunt of the Bahraini economy and most of its citizens in ordinary times, and are now being singled out and targeted in these chaotic times.
Ostensibly, the withdrawal of police forces from ordinary policing and security duties has led to a combination of mob rule: On the one hand, there are roaming gangs of armed instigators, the "baltajiyya;" and on on the other, there are those Bahrainis who are indsicriminately lashing out at foreigners, mostly Paksitanis, because they have witnessed or have been directly affected by the violence of the (mostly Pakistani) security personnel. A Pakistani commentator has spoken out on the issue, urging Pakistanis not to "lend an iron hand to despots of the Middle East."
Along with the increase in violence, the emphasis on sectarianism is on the rise too. A dangerous new precedent is being set as Iran took a break from repressing its own citizens and pitched in its two cents, calling the crackdown `unjustifiable` and withdrawing its ambassador from Bahrain.
Meanwhile, the only local newspaper to take an independent/ moderate opposition stance, Al Wasat News, reported the resignation of twelve Jaafari judges from Bahrain`s Shari`a court and several Shura Council members (consultative council appointed by the king), as well as two cabinet ministers: Health Minister Nizar Al Baharna (former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was appointed as Health Minister as a `concession` to protesters because he is a Shia Bahraini) and former opposition figure and Housing Minister Majeed Al Alawi, who was Labour Minister but was also recently re-shuffled (as part of same `concession`) .
Ibrahim Sharif from Wa`ad (liberal secular opposition party) and Hassan Mushaima were reportedly arrested.
Reporters from the economist, CNN, BBC Arabic and Aljazeera English have been denied entry into Bahrain, and Dow Jones journalist Alex Delmar Morgan reportedly detained by the army as he walked towards the Pearl roundabout.
Protests were held in Oman, Qatif, and Saihat in solidarity with the Bahraini people in the face of the brutal military crackdown. Other protests are also scheduled to take place in London from the Bahrain Embassy to the Saudi and US embassies.
In a mild departure from her usual chummy relations with the Bahraini government, Hilary Clinton has said officials in Bahrain are on the `wrong track’ in reference to recent violence unleashed on demonstrators. The UK`s David Cameron has called for ‘restraint on all sides’ (presumably Bahraini protesters should restrain themselves from dying so suddenly and violently).
The New York Times reported that a senior (unnamed) US Diplomat has arrived in Bahrain to discuss "calming" the situation, which, unsurprisingly they describe purely in terms of American interests; “the battle for control of this strategic island kingdom intensified on Tuesday as Iran lashed out at the arrival of Saudi troops.” Considering that Robert Gates visited the country the night before the incursion of the Peninsula Shield Troops and the ensuing violence, Bahrain can only wait with bated breath to see what this visit brings.
[The above 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. Also see our Notes from the Bahraini Field Update 1, Update 2, Update 3, Update 4, Update 5, and Update 6].