Friday, February 18, 2011
Bahraini soldiers fired automatic weapons and lobbed tear gas at mourners in a funeral procession Friday who defied a ban on gatherings and marched toward a central square in the capital that was the scene of a bloody crackdown the day before.
NPR's Peter Kenyon, who accompanied the procession in Manama, said the crowd from the funeral seemed to be making its way to Salmaniya Medical Complex, the main hospital, when they took a left turn into Pearl Square.
"As they got close, as the front edge of this very long line of marchers got close, the sound of shots erupted — scattering everybody," Kenyon said. "I think I saw one person with a gunshot wound. I can't confirm that yet, they were carrying him off in a pickup truck. It looked like blood on the leg."
He added: "I talked to one paramedic who said he carried a dead young boy who'd been shot in the forehead back to the hospital. A second one said he had carried someone who had also been shot in a critical area and was not expected to survive.
"There have been, I'm sure, at least a dozen casualties and maybe many more," Kenyon said.
Ambulance sirens blared throughout central Manama, and hospital officials reported that at least 20 people were injured, some seriously.
The mourners in Manama carried pictures of those killed in Thursday's pre-dawn attack on Pearl Square, where thousands had gathered to demand political reforms. Anti-riot police fired tear gas and shotguns and swung clubs to clear out the makeshift encampment full of sleeping people. At least five people died and more than 200 were wounded.
Before the violence, protesters were calling for greater public freedoms and political reforms but stopped short of demanding the removal of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa. Since Thursday's bloodshed, however, the mood appears to have shifted toward defiance of the entire ruling monarchy in Shiite-dominated, Sunni-ruled Bahrain.
"The regime has broken something inside of me. ... All of these people gathered today have had something broken in them," Ahmed Makki Abu Taki said at the funeral for his 23-year-old brother, Mahmoud, who was killed in Pearl Square on Thursday.
At a Shiite mosque in the village of Diraz, an anti-government hotbed, imam Isa Qassim called the Pearl Square assault a "massacre" and thousands of worshippers chanted, "The regime must go."
Although the government has officially banned gatherings, Kenyon said large pro-government demonstrations were allowed to go forward, apparently with official support.
Government loyalists filled Manama's Grand Mosque to hear words of support for the monarchy and take part in a post-sermon march protected by security forces. Many arrived with Bahraini flags draped over the traditional white robes worn by men. Portraits of the king were handed out.
"We must protect our country," said Adnan al-Qattan, the cleric leading prayers. "We are living in dangerous times."
In further evidence that the pro-government rally was officially sanctioned, Kenyon said people could be seen "getting water from large tanker trucks bearing the logo of the Interior Ministry."
The pro-government gathering drew many nonnative Bahrainis, including South Asians and Sunni Arabs from around the region. Shiite have long complained of policies that give Sunnis priority in citizenship and jobs, including posts in security forces, to offset the Shiite majority.
Outside a Shiite village mosque, several thousand mourners gathered to bury three of the men killed Thursday. The first body, covered in black velvet, was passed hand to hand toward a grave as it was being dug.
A Friday Of Victory In Egypt
Tens of thousands of people jammed Cairo's Tahrir Square to mark one week since a popular revolt drove longtime President Hosni Mubarak from power after three decades of autocratic rule.
The groups that sparked the country's 18-day revolt called the massive gathering a "Friday of Victory and Continuation," reflecting both their pride in forcing a change in national leadership and concerns about the future.
People flooded the square ahead of Friday prayers even though a main access road was blocked by an army jeep and a barricade and those entering on foot had to present identification to soldiers.
"We came here because we are excited about Egypt and the revolution," said 48-year-old Ashraf Abdel-Azim, who made his way to the square with his wife, Nadwa, and their 9-year-old son, Ahmed. "We want freedom and change, so we are happy to see it coming."
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, reporting from Cairo, said the demonstration is "clearly a sign to the military that the protesters are still here, that the people of Egypt are watching very closely what happens."
She said some people are skeptical that the military will follow though on its promises of reform, saying the generals' intentions have yet to be made clear and that the military has yet to meet with senior members of the opposition.
Ominous Warning To Demonstrators In Libya
Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya deployed security forces throughout the restive country and bluntly warned citizens Friday against joining the unrest in which dozens of protesters have been killed.
Protests have erupted in several cities in Libya this week, especially in the east, and the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Friday that 24 people were killed in unrest on Wednesday and Thursday.
But in an apparent effort to project an image of stability, Gadhafi's open-roofed car slowly made its way through the streets of the capital Tripoli late Thursday. In footage broadcast by Libyan TV, the motorcade was thronged by cheering supporters. Some pushed toward the car to try to reach Gadhafi and shake hands. "We do not want any other leader but Gadhafi!" one woman shouted.
Meanwhile, in the eastern city of Benghazi, hundreds of protesters camped out Friday in the center of the city. Calls to join funeral processions for those killed in clashes with pro-government forces spread on Facebook and websites.
One of the protesters, Nizar Jebail, who owns an advertising company, said he spent the night in front of the city's court building. He said he wants not just reforms, "but freedom and equality."
Yemen Protest Hit By Explosive Device
In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, thousands of people demonstrated Friday calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. They clashed with government loyalists and anti-riot police, who fired tear gas and shots in the air to disperse the crowd on what organizers called a nationwide "Friday of Rage."
In the city of Taiz, what appeared to be a hand grenade was thrown at a group of protesters, wounding at least 48 people in the blast and the stampede that followed, witnesses said.
Riots also flared overnight in the southern port of Aden. Police shot and killed three demonstrators after cars and a local government building were set ablaze, officials said.
Saleh, who has close ties to the United States, has ruled for 32 years.
Government Supporters, Critics Clash In Jordan
Jordan's capital city also erupted in violence between supporters and opponents of the government.
Loyalists used sticks and stones to attack a group of about 2,000 anti-government protesters in Amman before police intervened to restore order. Police said four people were wounded, but rally organizers put the number at eight.
Friday's demonstrations marked the seventh consecutive day of protests calling for the popular election of the prime minister and Cabinet officials. Past protests were peaceful.
Jordanian government spokesman Taher Edwan condemned the attack and said authorities were investigating to see who was behind the incident. He said the attackers violated the citizens' rights to free speech and assembly.
With reporting from NPR's Peter Kenyon in Manama, Bahrain, and Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Cairo, Egypt, and from Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan. This report also contains material from The Associated Press.