Curfew in Bahrain after security clears protesters from Pearl Square

Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 2:05 PM

MANAMA, BAHRAIN - Security forces overran a central square of Bahrain's capital Wednesday, firing tear gas and rubber bullets and clearing out an encampment of protesters a day after a state of emergency was declared.

Shortly after dawn, black smoke could be seen rising from Pearl Square, the epicenter of protests over the last month. Helicopters hovered overhead, and much of the central city was on lockdown. A doctor at the main hospital said police and army forces had taken control of the complex and would not allow injured people waiting outside to come in.

In the afternoon, the military announced a curfew that would ban access to Pearl Square and most of downtown from 4 p.m. Wednesday (9 a.m. in Washington) until 4 a.m. Thursday.

State television broadcast live footage of security forces walking through the square as fires raged among the tents. Large tanker trucks with riot equipment on their fronts were putting out the blazes. It was not clear who had set the fires, but security forces had controlled the area for more than six hours.

Eyewitness accounts on Twitter described riot police, security forces and many injuries. Two protesters were killed, according to a human rights worker. State television said two policemen died when they were struck by a vehicle. There was no other word on casualties.

The United States condemned Bahrain's assault on the protesters and called for political reform. "We object to excessive force and violence against demonstrators," the State Department said Wednesday, adding that it conveyed U.S. concerns to Bahrain's government. "We continue to believe the solution is credible political reform, not security crackdowns that threaten to exacerbate the situation."

In a statement, the government insisted that no live rounds were used by the police and that "the only fatalities" during the operation were two police officers who were "repeatedly run over by three vehicles containing protesters leaving the fringes of the scene." It asserted that "no other injuries were recorded."

The statement issued by the Bahrain Information Affairs Authority also charged that security forces "came under gunfire" on their way to Pearl Square and were attacked by "around 250 saboteurs" who hurled molotov cocktails from an overpass next to the roundabout.

Opposition figures and medical personnel told a far different story.

"There are a lot of injuries for sure," said Jasim Husain, a member of al-Wefaq, the largest opposition political party. "This is a historical day in Bahrain."

A doctor inside the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Manama's principal hospital, said that police and army forces took over the complex around 7 a.m.

"Our hospital is under siege," said the doctor, who asked for anonymity because he feared for his safety. "There are lots of injured people outside the hospital entrance. They are not allowed inside the hospital, and we are not allowed to go out and bring them in," he said.

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