Sunday, February 20, 2011
Shias retake Pearl Square as forces withdraw after two days of bloodshed, but there is fury as US munitions are found
By Robert Fisk in Bahrain
"Chanting, singing and waving roses, Bahrain's Shia Muslims ran in their tens of thousands back into Pearl Square in the centre of Manama yesterday after two days of bloodshed as police and soldiers battled to keep them from the streets of the capital. The army's tanks withdrew from the area – Bahrain's version of Cairo's Tahrir Square – in the morning, and then more than a thousand riot police, standing in ranks before the democracy protesters, suddenly retreated. Several of them ran away in front of us, pursued by women in chadors waving flowers.
Just why the Bahraini military, after firing live bullets into the crowds 24 hours earlier, allowed the protesters to take back the square yesterday was a mystery to many of them.....
Many held posters bearing the faces of Saddam Hussein, ex-Egyptian president Mubarak and former Tunisian dictator Bin Ali, all of the portraits crossed out alongside a picture of King Hamad and the words "Down, Down Hamad." Crowds sang "go away Khalifas" and said that only a new constitution and the trial of police and soldiers who had fired at them with live rounds, rubber-coated steel bullets and tear-gas grenades would satisfy them. There was also a distinct note of anger with America when Shia men and women found – amid the debris of the protesters' camp destroyed by the police early on Thursday – dozens of tear-gas and baton rounds imported from the United States........
Saudi Arabia is only one of the Gulf states fearful that gains by the Shia majority in Bahrain will provoke the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia to demand reforms identical to their co-religionists in the tiny nation that borders the Saudi kingdom. And if President Obama was insisting that there should be no more violence by the Bahraini security forces, you can be sure that the Saudis would have been advising the opposite. Last night, the Shias appeared to have won the right to occupy the square again; but whether the police will allow them to keep their encampment, which was already being resupplied with tents yesterday evening, is quite another matter."