Fresh clashes tip Bahrain into state of emergency
Published 16/03/2011 | 05:00
A woman holds a copy of the Koran at the Saudi Embassy in Manama as Bahrain's rulers struggle to quell the uprising.
BAHRAIN declared a state of emergency yesterday in an effort to contain a fresh wave of violence that has claimed the lives of at least two security personnel and a protester, and left hundreds injured.
The three-month state of emergency was imposed a day after more than 1,000 Saudi military personnel and 500 United Arab Emirates police officers were deployed in Bahrain after a request for assistance made by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.
Bahrain called for help after thousands of protesters spilt on to its streets over the weekend, setting off the first major clashes since February 17.
Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain's crown prince, offered to hold talks with opposition groups after the clashes, but this was rejected.
Saudi Arabian authorities confirmed that a sergeant in its forces was shot dead when a gunman fired from within a crowd protesting against the deployment of its troops.
Bahrain's interior ministry said a police officer was deliberately run down by a protester in the south of the country, but did not make further details available.
Dozens of plainclothes police officers deployed in the mainly Shia Sitra neighbourhood were beaten, authorities said.
Residents said at least one protester was killed during clashes with police in Sitra, while rival Shia and Sunni vigilante groups armed with metal pipes and clubs gathered in Bahrain's shuttered streets.
Bahrain's Western allies have been eyeing with growing concern developments in the emirate, which is home to the US 5th Fleet, and a key regional security partner for NATO. In London, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, called on "all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid violence".
The White House warned that there was "no military solution" to the political upheaval taking place in the country.
The US has sent Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state, to Bahrain to encourage talks between the government and the opposition. Speaking in Cairo, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, said: "Our advice to all sides is that they must take steps now to negotiate toward a political resolution."
Protesters wearing white, symbolising their willingness to die as martyrs, also surrounded the Saudi embassy in Bahrain, shouting slogans demanding the abdication of King Hamad. Bahrain's Shia majority has been demanding democratic reforms, saying that it is under-represented in government and denied economic opportunities.
Shia opposition groups also claim the monarchy has been resettling Iraqi and Jordanian Sunni Muslims in an effort to alter the demographic balance.
Iran, a Shia majority country, described the deployment of Saudi troops as unacceptable.
A foreign ministry spokesman said: "Basically, we do not think it is right for forces of other countries, especially Persian Gulf countries, to be present or intervene in Bahrain's situation. Any violence in response to these legitimate demands should be stopped."
Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Iran after these remarks, as hundreds of riot police were deployed in the Iranian capital Tehran to stop protests by the democratic opposition. (© Daily Telegraph, London)