MANAMA, Bahrain – Troops and tanks locked down the capital of this tiny Gulf kingdom after riot police swinging clubs and firing tear gas smashed into demonstrators, many of them sleeping, in a pre-dawn assault Thursday that uprooted their protest camp demanding political change. Medical officials said four people were killed.
Hours after the attack on Manama’s main Pearl Square, the military announced a ban on gatherings, saying on state TV that it had “key parts” of the capital under its control.
Foreign Minister Khalid Al Khalifa justified the crackdown as necessary because the demonstrators were “polarizing the country and” pushing it to the “brink of the sectarian abyss.”
Speaking to reporters after meeting with his Gulf counterparts, he also said the violence was “regrettable.”
After several days of holding back, the island nation’s Sunni rulers unleashed a heavy crackdown, trying to stamp out the first anti-government upheaval to reach the Arab states of the Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In the surprise assault, police tore down protesters’ tents, beating men and women inside and blasting some with shotgun sprays of birdshot.