Three dead in Bahrain as police crack down on sleeping protesters (Second Lead)

February 17th, 2011 - 6:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Manama, Feb 17 (IANS) Three people were killed early Thursday when police cracked down on sleeping protesters in this Bahrain capital, an action that led to a minister reportedly quitting. By daybreak, tanks were seen rolling down the streets of the restive city swept by the winds of change that began in Tunisia and Egypt.
The pre-dawn attack took place when the protesters were asleep at Pearl Roundabout, the focal point for demonstrators seeking reform in the country that has a constitutional monarchy. Many of them had joined the protests Wednesday following the funeral of an earlier victim.

The protests began in Bahrain this week following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, 82, in Egypt. The Egypt uprising not only brought an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, but also inspired copycat protests in Yemen, Iran and Libya.

DPA quoted protesters as saying that they were no longer demanding just democratic reforms, but would accept nothing less than a regime change.

“People want to bring down the regime”, chanted the demonstrators.

Police helicopters hovered overhead early Thursday as the security force dispersed the crowd and regained control of the area. While DPA put the number of dead at three, other media reports said that two people were killed in the police action.

As the day wore on, news came in that a foreign ministry official and a human rights activist had quit their government posts to protest the police action against demonstrators.

The microblogging site Twitter was agog with news that Bahrain’s health minister Faisal Al Hamer had resigned in protest. According to Iran’s Press TV, Al Hamer’s resignation followed the attack on medical workers helping the victims of the unrest.

Maryama Alkawaka of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights told Al Jazeera that she saw dozens of injured being carried into emergency rooms at Salmaniya hospital, which is the main medical facility here.

“People were attacked while they were sleeping. There was no warning. And when they ran, the police attacked them from the direction they fled to.”

The Bahraini interior ministry said “security forces evacuated the area of Pearl Roundabout from protesters, after trying all opportunities for dialogue with them, in which some positively responded and left quietly”.

Ibrahim Sherif, of the Waad party, said police had acted without any warning.

“Throughout the day there were rumours that we would have another 24 hours, but the attack has come without warning.

“You have hundreds of women and children already camping there. People are sleeping in the tents (…) there is a dense fog of tear gas, these people could be trapped there and inhaling this tear gas,” BBC quoted him as saying.

“We have two confirmed dead - one 65-year-old and another younger person, a third is in critical condition,” he said.

TV images showed police clearing the crowd of thousands of protesters, many of them women and children.

The king of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Wednesday made an appearance on state television in which he condoled the death of two protesters while the country’s main Shia opposition group announced it was withdrawing from parliament.

Hamad expressed his condolences for “the deaths of two of our dear sons” in a televised speech and said a committee would investigate the killings.

“We will ask legislators to look into this issue and suggest needed laws to resolve it,” he said, adding that peaceful protests were legal in the country.

The US, which has a major naval base in the country, said it was “very concerned” by recent violence in protests in Bahrain, and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

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