"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bahraini Troops Rout Protesters



"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.

"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.

"It was a sign of how deeply the Sunni monarchy — and other Arab regimes in the Gulf — fear the repercussions of a prolonged wave of protests, led by members of the country's Shiite majority but also joined by growing numbers of discontented Sunnis.

"Tiny Bahrain is a pillar of Washington's military framework in the region. It hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which is a critical counterbalance to Iran. Bahrain's rulers and their Arab allies depict any sign of unrest among their Shiite populations as a move by neighboring Shiite-majority Iran to expand its clout in the region.

[...]

"The capital Manama was effectively shut down Thursday. For the first time in the crisis, tanks rolled into the streets and military checkpoints were set up as army patrols circulated. The Interior Ministry warned Bahrainis to stay off the streets. Banks and other key institutions did not open, and workers stayed home, unable or to afraid to pass through checkpoints to get to their jobs.

"Barbed wire and police cars with flashing blue lights encircled Pearl Square, the site of anti-government rallies since Monday. The square was turned into a field of flattened tents and the strewn belongings of the protesters who had camped there — pieces of clothing and boxes of food.

[...]

"The violence killed four people, said hospital officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

"Bahrain's parliament — minus opposition lawmakers who are staging a boycott — met in emergency session. One pro-government member, Jamila Salman, broke into tears. A leader of the Shiite opposition Abdul-Jalil Khalil said 18 lawmakers resigned to protest the killings.

[...]

"While the protests began as a cry for the country's Sunni monarchy to loosen its grip, the uprising's demands have steadily grown bolder. Many protesters called for the government to provide more jobs and better housing, free all political detainees and abolish the system that offers Bahraini citizenship to Sunnis from around the Middle East.

"Increasingly, protesters also chanted slogans to wipe away the entire ruling dynasty that has led Bahrain for more than 200 years and is firmly backed by the Sunni sheiks and monarchs across the Gulf.

"The stability of Bahrain's government is seen as crucial by its other allies in the Gulf, who — though they rarely say it in public — see Bahrain's Shiite majority as the weak link in their unity against Iranian influence.

"Hard-liners in Iran have often expressed kinship and support for Bahrain's Shiites. But in Bahrain, the community staunchly denies being a tool of Tehran, saying their complaints are rooted in their country's unbalanced system."

How will the US respond, other than urge restraint? Maybe Obama can make some flip-flop speeches again as he struggles to back the right horse.

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