Saturday 21 October 2017

'People didn't run off, they faced guns' as soldiers fired

Hospital fury after 'massacre'

The heavy hand of Saudi Arabia may not be far away. The Saudis fear the protests in Manama and the towns of Bahrain will light equally provocative fires in the east of their kingdom

"MASSACRE -- it's a massacre," the doctors were shouting. Three dead. Four dead. One man was carried past me on a stretcher in the emergency room, blood spurting on to the floor from a massive bullet wound in his thigh.

A few feet away, six nurses were fighting for the life of a pale-faced, bearded man with blood oozing out of his chest. "I have to take him to theatre now," a doctor screamed. "There is no time -- he's dying!"

One poor youth -- 18, 19 years old, perhaps -- had a terrible head wound, a bullet hole in the leg and a bloody mess on his chest. The doctor beside him turned to me weeping, tears splashing on to his blood-stained gown.

"He has a fragmented bullet in his brain and I can't get the bits out, and the bones on the left side of his head are completely smashed. I just can't help him."

Blood was cascading on to the floor. It was pitiful, outrageous, shameful. These were not armed men but mourners returning from a funeral, Shia Muslims shot down by their own Bahraini army yesterday afternoon.

A medical orderly was returning with thousands of other men and women from the funeral at Daih of one of the demonstrators killed at the Pearl Square on Thursday.

"We decided to walk to the hospital because we knew there was a demonstration. Some of us were carrying tree branches as a token of peace which we wanted to give to the soldiers near the square, and we were shouting 'peace, peace'.

Shooting

"There was no provocation -- nothing against the government. Then suddenly the soldiers started shooting. One was firing a machine gun from the top of a personnel carrier.

"There were police but they just left as the soldiers shot at us. But you know, the people in Bahrain have changed. They didn't want to run away. They faced the bullets with their bodies."

The demonstration at the hospital had already drawn thousands of Shia protesters -- including hundreds of doctors and nurses from all over Manama -- to demand the resignation of the Bahraini Minister of Health Faisal Mohamed al-Homor for refusing to allow ambulances to fetch the dead and injured from Thursday morning's police attack on the Pearl Square demonstrators.

But their fury turned to near-hysteria when the first wounded were brought in yesterday. Up to 100 doctors crowded into the emergency rooms, shouting and cursing their king and their government as paramedics fought to push trolleys loaded with the latest victims through screaming crowds.

Thus did the anger of Bahrain's army -- and, I suppose, the anger of the al-Khalifa family, the King included -- reach the Sulmaniya medical centre.

The staff felt that they too were victims. And they were right. Five ambulances sent to the street -- yesterday's victims were shot down opposite a fire station close to Pearl Square -- were stopped by the army. Moments later, the hospital discovered that all their mobile phones had been switched off. .

Rumours burned like petrol in Bahrain yesterday and many medical staff were insisting that up to 60 corpses had been taken from Pearl Square on Thursday morning and that police were seen by crowds loading bodies into three refrigerated trucks.

According to other demonstrators, the vehicles, which bore Saudi registration plates, were later seen on the highway to Saudi Arabia. To turn on Bahraini civilians with live fire within 24 hours of the earlier killings seems like an act of lunacy.

But the heavy hand of Saudi Arabia may not be far away. The Saudis are fearful that the demonstrations in Manama and the towns of Bahrain will light equally provocative fires in the east of their kingdom where a substantial Shia minority lives around Dhahran and other towns close to the Kuwaiti border.

Their desire to see the Shia of Bahrain crushed as quickly as possible was made very clear at Thursday's Gulf summit here, with all the sheikhs and princes agreeing that there would be no Egyptian-style revolution in a kingdom which has a Shia majority of perhaps 70 per cent and a small Sunni minority which includes the royal family.

Fear

And many in the crowd said -- as the Egyptians said -- that they had lost their fear of the authorities, of the police and army.

The policemen and soldiers for whom they now express such disgust were all too evident on the streets of Manama yesterday, watching sullenly from armoured vehicles or perched on American-made tanks.

This is the first serious insurrection in the wealthy Gulf states and Bahrain's al-Khalifa family realise just how fraught the coming days will be for them.

A reliable source told me that late on Wednesday night a member of the al-Khalifa family -- said to be the Crown Prince -- held a series of telephone conversations with a prominent Shia cleric who was camping in Pearl Square.

The Prince apparently offered reforms and government changes which he thought the cleric had approved.

But the demonstrators demanded the dissolution of parliament. Then came the police. (©Independent News Service)

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