Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bahraini police tear gas protesters without warning

NYT: "Hundreds of riot police surrounded the nation’s symbolic center, Pearl Square, in the early morning Thursday, raining tear gas and percussion grenades on thousands of demonstrators who had poured into the square all day Wednesday to challenge the country’s absolute monarchy.

The protesters, including women and children, had been camping out and the atmosphere had been festive only hours before. But by about 3:30 a.m. Thursday, people were fleeing, screaming “We were sleeping. We were sleeping,” and ambulances, sirens blaring, were trying to make their way through the crowds.

Witnesses, some of them vomiting from the gas, said they had no warning the police were going to crack down on their peaceful protest before rows of police vehicles with blue flashing lights began to circle the area.

Shiite opposition leaders had spent the day Wednesday issuing assurances that they were not being influenced by Iran and were not interested in transforming the monarchy into a religious theocracy like the Islamic republic in Iran.

But that did not stop what appeared to be government attempts to deter the demonstrators who had laid claim to the square, the symbolic heart of the nation. Hours before the police action, the Internet was jammed to a crawl and cellphone service was intermittent. Those efforts, however, only seemed to energize the roaring crowds, which spilled out of the square, tied up roads for as far as the eye could see and united in a celebration of empowerment unparalleled for Bahrain’s Shiites, who make up about 70 percent of the country’s 600,000 citizens."

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