Bahrain declares martial law, violence flares

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MANAMA – Bahrain King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa declared martial law on Tuesday as his government struggled to quell an uprising by the island’s Shia majority that has drawn in troops from Saudi Arabia. The three-month state of emergency will hand wholesale power to Bahrain’s security forces, stoking sectarian tensions in one of the Gulf’s most politically volatile nations.
Disturbances continued to shake the kingdom through the day. A hospital source said two men, one Bahraini and the other Bangladeshi, were killed in clashes in the Shia area of Sitra and more than 200 people were wounded in various incidents. State television said a Bahraini policeman was also killed. The US said that it was concerned about reports of growing sectarianism in the country, which is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and called for political dialogue to resolve the crisis.
“One thing is clear, there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. It was not clear if a curfew would be imposed or whether there would be any clampdown on media or public gathering. “In order for the situation to return to normal we have to establish order and security and … stop the violations which have spread disturbances among the people of our dear country,” said Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed al-Khalifa.
SAUDI ANXIETY: On Monday, more than 1,000 Saudi troops rolled into the kingdom in a long convoy of armoured vehicles at the request of Bahrain’s Sunni rulers, flashing victory signs as they crossed the causeway that connects the two oil producers. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have said they would also send police. Thousands of Bahrainis marched on the Saudi Embassy in Manama on Tuesday to protest against the intervention.
“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. Analysts said the troop movement showed concern in Saudi Arabia that any concessions here could inspire the conservative Sunni-ruled kingdom’s own Shia minority. Iran, which sits across the Gulf from Bahrain, sharply criticised the decision to send in Saudi troops.
“The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly news conference in Tehran. A Bahraini Foreign Ministry official called the remarks a “blatant interference in Bahrain’s internal affairs”, the state news agency BNA said, adding that Manama had recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations.
SECTARIAN CLASHES: Bahrain’s largest opposition group Wefaq condemned the imposition of martial law and called for international intervention. “The army is in control of society now,” said Jasim Hussein, a Wefaq politician. The US has urged Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, to show restraint, though analysts said the escalation showed the limits of US influence when internal security was threatened.
The United Nations and Britain echoed the call for restraint and the Group of Eight powers expressed concern. In a sign that security could deteriorate, the US State Department advised against all travel to Bahrain due to a “breakdown in law and order”. Underlining the growing tensions, armed youths attacked the printing press of Bahrain’s only opposition newspaper Al Wasat overnight in an effort to stop its publication.
Metal barricades and piles of sand and rocks blocked the main thoroughfare to the financial district and most shops in Bahrain were shut. Around Bahrain, residents have placed skips, bins and pieces of metal on the road, to prevent strangers from entering their neighbourhoods. Young men, some wearing masks and carrying sticks, guarded the entrances to their areas.