Thu February 17, 2011
Middle East

Anti-Government Protests In Bahrain Turn Violent

Reporting from Bahrain — where, before dawn, riot police armed with clubs and shotguns charged into the protesters' camp in the capital's main square — NPR's Peter Kenyon tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep that Bahrainis' grief is "turning to anger very rapidly."

Four people were reported killed, and dozens more were seriously wounded in the raid in Manama's Pearl Square.

Peter, where are you now and what are you seeing?

Steve, I'm at the Salmaniya hospital, where many of the wounded and dead were brought initially. I have to say, uh, I have just seen one of the more gruesome sites in 10 years of covering the Middle East. I was in the mortuary. I saw a man lying on a gurney. The top of his head was literally blown off.

The injuries have been widespread — clubbing and some shot and rubber-bullet injuries. Paramedics who were trying to get to the scene told me they were pulled from their ambulances and dragged to the ground and beaten.

It's ... it's been a scene, kind of. It's a bit quiet at the moment, I have to say, but just moments ago, this compound in the hospital was filled with screaming people. The grief is turning to anger very rapidly here.

And the situation is changing very rapidly. I recall, Peter, just yesterday you were telling us how the protesters had occupied the square and the police were nowhere to be seen, at least not in the areas where the protesters were. That seems to have changed very, very quickly.

It was a dramatic change and a bit hard to understand at the moment, I have to say. I mean, only Tuesday the king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, had said he was sorry for the deaths that had happened earlier, the two people who were killed [during protests Monday], and he had vowed that there would be peaceful responses to peaceful protests.

The crowds had swelled over 36 hours in Pearl Circle there, which is what they had hoped would be their Tahrir Square. Many people had camped out for the night, mostly, I should say, young men but also some families, women and children there in family tents. I would say a percentage of the people go home after midnight to their own homes to sleep. But there is a corps that stays there every night, and they bore the brunt of this attack.

They said it started about 3 a.m. with tear gas being fired from above, where there's a bridge that overlooks the square. And then the police moved in, clubbing people out of their tents, according to witnesses, and then the wounded and the damage ensued.

As best you can determine, who ended up in possession of the square?

The police and the military are in charge of the square. There was a military convoy that moved in. It sealed off the square, and access to that area is now sealed off by police, armed police.

In fact, the man whose body I saw, I spoke with his son and he said they were trying to walk back into the square to help the wounded when the man was killed.

So we do not have the same situation as in Cairo, Egypt, where the protesters took over a central square, a symbolically important square, and managed through everything to stay there for days. The protesters have cleared out. Do you have any sense of what the protesters are going to do next or are attempting to do now?

You're right. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, it was not a call for regime change immediately, except for a few isolated pockets. It was a call for political reform and economic reform.

The Shia majority here feels disadvantaged. They think the Sunni royal family has moved too slowly on reform. But now, after this attack, the dead and the wounded, now the universal call seems, certainly at the street level, is for toppling the regime. And the refrain here is that this will not stop the protest, that this will have the opposite effect. And what I'm hearing is people saying, "We will never stop."

Now there's more funerals to be held, they may be even larger than the ones we saw earlier this week.

So the funerals will be the next focus of attention here.

There's the funerals. There's also a news conference by the foreign minister for later today, and we're hoping that will give us some sense of what the government's position is, why this happened and how the government will be dealing with this explosive situation moving forward. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.