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Four Dead In Bahrain Protests; Libya Activists Call For 'Day Of Rage'

17.02.2011 15:15


Bahrain's army says it has taken control of key parts of the capital, Manama, as scores of armored vehicles took up positions around the city following a bloody crackdown on protests.

In a statement read out on state television today, the military also announced that further gatherings had been banned to ensure order.

At least four people were reported killed and dozens injured when riot police cleared thousands of protesters from the city's central Pearl Square before dawn, using tear gas, firing rubber bullets, and closing off the area.

The latest deaths bring to at least six the number of demonstrators killed this week in demonstrations organized in the wake of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

The protesters, who had been camped out since February 15, are calling for wide-ranging political reforms in the country, whose population is 70 percent Shi'ite but is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy.

Abed al-Jalil Khalil, head of the main Shi'ite opposition Wefaq party, told Reuters that the police crackdown was "real terrorism."

"There is more than one way or option to avoid such confrontation and killing," Khalil says. "Whoever took that decision was aiming to kill."

Wefaq has boycotted parliament to protest the clampdown by Sunni security forces.

All Other Avenues 'Exhausted'

Since independence from Britain in 1971, tensions between the Sunni elite and the Shi'a have frequently caused civil unrest, with the majority Shi'a complaining of being marginalized.

The Qatar state news agency said Gulf Arab foreign ministers will meet in Bahrain later today to discuss the unrest on the island, where the U.S. Fifth Naval Fleet is based.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon called "on all parties to exercise restraint and refrain from violence," while European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: "The peaceful expression of people's concerns should be met through dialogue."

The Bahrain protest was part of a wave of antigovernment unrest that has swept through North Africa and the Middle East in recent weeks, forcing the long-serving rulers of Tunisia and Egypt from power.

The antigovernment rallies are being fueled by discontent over unemployment, rising living costs, corruption, and autocratic leaderships.

'Day Of Rage'

In the last week, protests have taken place in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, and Yemen -- where today security forces and government loyalists clashed with protesters.

Clashes were reported in several other towns on the seventh consecutive day of demonstrations calling for an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule.

At least 14 people were reported wounded in the violence.

One protester was killed by police in the port city of Aden on February 16 -- the first confirmed death since the protests began.

Qaddafi Under Fire

In Libya, online activists called on social networking sites for a "Day of Rage" today.

Reports said several hundred supporters of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi gathered in the capital to counteract the call, but there was no sign of any antigovernment protests.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Libyan authorities have detained 14 activists, writers, and protesters in connection with the planned demonstrations.

Public dissent is rare in Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi has been in power for more than 40 years.

In a first sign of defiance on February 15, witnesses and media reported that several hundred people clashed with police and Qaddafi supporters in the North African country's second-largest city, Benghazi.

More than 30 people, including police officers, were reported injured in the unrest, which followed the detention of an outspoken government critic.

There were also reports of clashes in the northeastern city of Al-Baida overnight in which exile groups said at least four people were killed.

Video clips uploaded overnight on the Internet appeared to show protesters in Al-Baida chanting slogans.

In a speech broadcast on February 16, Gaddafi made no mention of the unrest, but said the "revolutionaries" would prevail, and that "the puppets of the USA, the puppets of Zionism" were falling.

The European Union has urged Tripoli to allow "free expression."

More than 100 members of a banned Islamist militant group were freed from prison on February 17. It is not clear if the release of the inmates was connected to the Benghazi clashes.

written by Antoine Blua, with agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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