Bahrainis protest against Saudi military intervention

March 16, 2011 - 0:0

MANAMA — Bahrain’s king imposed a three-month state of emergency on Tuesday as thousands of Bahraini protesters marched to the Saudi Arabian Embassy and condemned the Saudi military intervention.

The emergency law gave the country’s military chief wide authority to battle a pro-democracy uprising that has threatened the ruling monarchy and drawn in forces from around the Persian Gulf.
The martial law-style order -- read on Bahrain state TV -- came a day after more than 1,000 Saudi-led troops arrived to help prop up the U.S.-backed Khalifa regime in the first major cross-border action against the revolts that have erupted across the Arab world, AP reported.
The emergency law statement said the head of Bahrain’s armed forces has been authorized “to take necessary steps to restore national security.”
Carrying Bahraini flags, some 5,000 people marched from Pearl Square, the focal point of protests, to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in an upscale area of the capital where streets were otherwise deserted, Reuters reported.
“Down, down with Hamad!” the crowds chanted, referring to Bahrain’s ruler, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
“People are angry. We want this occupation to end. We don’t want anybody to help the Al Khalifa or us,” said a protester who gave his name as Salman, referring to the ruling family.
“We’re not going to attack the embassy, but if they attack we will defend ourselves.”
Demonstrators and security forces faced off from mid-morning in the Sitra area on the outskirts of Manama. Bystanders reported the sound of gunfire and the scent of teargas by early afternoon, followed by the familiar cacophony of ambulance sirens as they sped casualties towards the city’s two main hospitals, The Guardian reported.
Saudi soldier dead
In another development, a security official in Saudi Arabia said a Saudi sergeant was shot and killed by a protester on Tuesday in the Bahraini capital Manama. No other details were immediately given on the death of the soldier, identified as Sgt. Ahmed al-Raddadi.
But, if true, it would mark a dramatic shift in the tactics by the opposition, which has displayed no weapons and has adopted the chant of “peaceful” as a main slogan. The Saudi official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The dispatch of troops from Persian Gulf allies on Monday highlighted the regional concerns about possible spillover from Bahrain, where the opposition has held a month of relentless demonstrations against the Western-backed government to try to break its monopoly on power.
Other Persian Gulf leaders fear that concessions by Bahrain’s rulers could embolden more protests against their own regimes. Recently, the people of Oman, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia also began calling for reform.
Qatari army enters Bahrain, reports say
There are unconfirmed reports that Qatari troops also entered Bahrain on Tuesday.
According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency, the Bahraini opposition denounced Qatar’s decision to send military units to Bahrain as an act of war.
Al Manar TV said that the United Arab Emirates also plans to send hundreds of troops to Bahrain to crack down on protesters.
Bahrainis ready for martyrdom
Meanwhile, Bahrainis have said they are ready to sacrifice their lives in defense of the people’s right to hold peaceful protests against the ruling Al Khalifa family.
According to Press TV, Bahraini opposition groups, including the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, denounced the intervention by foreign troops as an invasion of the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom.
They said that the government’s violent crackdown on the demonstrators and the incursion by the military forces of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Cooperation Council members will not quash the people’s desire for change, Shia Online reported.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the United States government was informed about Saudi Arabia’s plan to launch a military intervention in Bahrain before it happened, a senior U.S. administration official said.
“We received word that they were planning to head into Bahrain, but not with a significant amount of lead time,” the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
Earlier, the Pentagon had said that it had received no warning that Saudi troops and military forces of other neighboring countries would be deployed to keep a lid on violent protests in the Persian Gulf kingdom.
The U.S. has refrained from calling the various military deployments to Bahrain an ‘incursion’.
The United States -- which relies on Bahrain as a pillar of its military framework in the Persian Gulf -- has urged U.S. citizens to avoid travel to the island nation due to “the potential for ongoing political and civil unrest.” The State Department statement also advised U.S. citizens currently in the country to consider leaving Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for a meaningful and broad-based national dialogue. He has also urged Bahrain’s regional neighbors and the international community to support a dialogue process and an environment conducive for credible reform in Bahrain.
The protests began last month with calls for the monarchy to give up most of its powers to the elected parliament. But as violence has deepened, many protesters now say they want to topple the entire royal family.
Shias account for 70 percent of Bahrain’s population of some 525,000, but are mostly excluded from high-level political and security posts. The protesters are also demanding that the government repeal its policy of attempting to offset the Shia demographic advantage by giving citizenship and jobs to Sunnis from other Arab nations and South Asia.