By Arab News
By Siraj Wahab
In an early morning raid on Wednesday, Bahraini security forces cleared hundreds of anti-government protesters camping in makeshift tents for the last three weeks at the famous Pearl Roundabout in the heart of the Bahraini capital.
A Bahraini government source told Arab News that the cleanup operation began at 5:30 a.m. and was over by 9:50 a.m.
“We had given the squatters adequate warning and ample time to vacate the area,” he said. “As our forces started clearing their way to the roundabout, they faced a number of obstacles and ambushes. They were fired upon, resulting in the death of two soldiers.”
Doctors and journalists reporting from the scene said three protesters died and scores injured in the operations around the roundabout.
Television footage showed burning canisters and thick black clouds billowing from the area, partially obscuring the famous landmark.
“During the evacuation operation, the forces came across many barricades set up by the squatters in order to hinder the troop advancement,” the government source said.
The protesters, he said, had set fire to everything they came across. They torched the makeshift plastic tents by throwing Molotov cocktails on them.
The government spokesperson said another group of forces encircled the nearby Salmaniya Medical Complex and removed the ambulances parked at the entrance to block the soldiers from approaching the area. He said the troops were asked to use tear gas and not to use live ammunition. “The whole operation was successful and was over in a matter of few hours,” he said.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah received a telephone call from US President Barack Obama on Wednesday. The two leaders discussed major regional and international developments including the situation in Bahrain, the Saudi Press Agency said.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and his counterparts in Bahrain and the UAE held talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the Gulf situation.
Members of Bahraini opposition groups told Arab News that heavy force was used against “unarmed and peaceful” protesters.
“We kept shouting, peace, peace, but they would not listen to us. They charged at us menacingly … we held our ground for long and then started running helter-skelter,” said a middle-aged protester who only identified himself as Abu Ali.
A leading member of the opposition denounced the assault as a declaration of war on his community. “This is war of annihilation. This does not happen even in wars and this is not acceptable,” Abdel Jalil Khalil, the head of Al-Wefaq’s 18-member Parliament bloc, told Reuters. “I saw them fire live rounds, in front of my own eyes.”
The reaction from business-friendly pro-government supporters was one of relief. “Thank God, the roundabout has finally been cleared,” said Dalia Marzouki. “We were like hostages in our own country. These people had started blackmailing everybody. I support my government, there has to be law and order.”
The country’s large expatriate community, especially Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, has also taken a harsh line against the protesters. One particular reason for this is the killing and stabbing of members of these communities in the last two days. One journalist said bodies of two Bangladeshi workers were recovered from Sitra village on Tuesday night. They had stab wounds indicating that an armed mob had set upon them. Three days earlier, a Pakistani expatriate was dragged from his car and brutally killed.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki criticized military intervention in Bahrain, and followers of cleric Moqtada Sadr took to the streets of Baghdad.
Iran, meanwhile, withdrew its ambassador from Bahrain “in protest at the killing of the people of Bahrain by its government,” a statement posted on the government website dolat.ir said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the deployment of Gulf troops in Bahrain.