Monday, March 14, 2011

Violent Clashes in Bahrain as Saudis Ride In To Quell Protests

Protests in Bahrain continue, and security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesters. One such incident was caught on video and shows a member of security firing a tear gas canister at point blank range at a protester - who is lucky that he wasn't killed outright.

The violence appeared to overwhelm the Bahraini security and there are reports that the Saudis have been called in to help quell the protests.
Saudi troops who crossed into Bahrain were heading in the direction of Riffa, a Sunni Muslim area that is home to the royal family and a military hospital, witnesses said.

They saw 150 armoured troop carriers, and about 50 other vehicles including ambulances, water tankers, buses and jeeps. The vehicles were lightly armed and there were no tanks or missile launchers in the procession.
As with the protests seen elsewhere in the Middle East, the protesters are demanding more political representation, more rights, and economic and religious freedoms (particularly among the Shi'ite minority). The Saudis were part of a Gulf Cooperation Council Force that includes Bahrain and its Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman.
Protesters who have been calling for democratic reforms have successfully shut down large swaths of Manama, the capital city, and Bahraini security forces have fought back with teargas and rubber bullets. Pro-government civilians have in some cases attacked protesters with sticks, knives and swords; the protesters have responded with rocks and other objects, witnesses have said.

Witnesses in Manama said that most downtown businesses were closed Monday.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain by a causeway, have looked at its smaller neighbor with growing nervousness, fearful that a victorious Shia majority in Bahrain could embolden Saudi Arabia's own Shiite minority in nearby oil-rich Eastern Province. They are also worried about Iran exploiting the situation off their coast, although American officials have said that they do not believe Iran has been involved in the Bahrain protests.

A pro-government political society in Bahrain called Sunday for martial law to be imposed, the state news agency reported, while the White House issued a statement condemning the use of force.

On Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and pushed him to take stronger steps toward democratic reforms.
The Saudis are keenly aware that they need to quell protests should opposition groups within Saudi Arabia generate sufficient support to overwhelm the Saudi security forces. Last week's failed Friday demonstrations showed that the Saudis have effectively tamped down the possibility of demonstrations for the moment, but that could change if the opposition efforts in Bahrain are successful in wringing out concessions above and beyond that which the Bahraini regime has agreed to.

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