Manama, Feb 17 (IANS) Three people in the Bahrain capital were killed in the early hours of Thursday when police in riot gear lobbed teargas canisters and then stormed a roundabout where protesters were sleeping.
The pre-dawn assault took place when the protesters were asleep at Pearl Roundabout, which is the epicentre for demonstrators seeking reform. 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 Hosny Mubarak in Egypt. The Egypt uprising not only brought an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule, it also inspired copy cat protests in Iran and Libya.
Police helicopters buzzed 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.
Maryama Alkawaka of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights told Al Jazeera that she has seen 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.
Witnesses told DPA that police closed down the area between the square and Salamnyia
hospital and the atmosphere remained “very tense”.
TV images showed police clearing the crowd of thousands of protesters, many of them women and children.
Two of the three dead protesters, an elderly man and a younger man whose bodies were at the Salamynia hospital, bore what appeared to be gunshot wounds, witnesses said.
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, as 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 said it was “very concerned” by recent violence in protests in Bahrain, and urged all sides to exercise restraint.