Bahrain Demolishes Pearl Square

SUBHEAD: After Saudi "support" Bahrain demolishes Pearl Square monument that became symbolic of peaceful Shiite resistance to Sunni monarchy.

 By Barbara Surk on 18 March 2011 for Huffington Post - 

Image above: Symbolic monument representing a pearl. The rich pearl trade there was the pre-oil occupation of Bahrainis. The traffic circle will be converted to a conventional intersection with electric signal lights. From (

Bahrain on Friday tore down the 300-foot (90-meter) monument at the heart of a square purged of Shiite protesters this week, erasing a symbol of an uprising that's inflaming sectarian tensions across the region.

The monument – six white curved beams topped with a huge cement pearl – was built in Pearl Square as a tribute to the Sunni-ruled kingdom's history as a pearl-diving center. It became the backdrop to the Shiite majority's uprising after protesters set up a month-long camp at Pearl Square in the capital, Manama.

Security forces overran the camp on Wednesday, setting off clashes that killed at least five people, including two policemen. At least 12 people have been killed in the month-long revolt.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters in Manama that the army brought down the monument because "it was a bad memory."

"We are not waging war, we are restoring law and order," Khalid said at a press conference in Manama.

Shiite anger rose sharply around the Mideast on Friday as large crowds in Iran and Iraq cursed Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and its Saudi backers over the violent crackdown on protesters demanding more rights.

Amateur video footage of security forces shooting and beating protesters has spread across the internet and fueled fury in predominantly Shiite Iraq and in Iran, where a senior cleric on Friday urged Bahraini protesters to keep going until victory or death.

Thousands of Bahrainis gathered for the funeral of Ahmed Farhan, a 29-year-old demonstrator slain Tuesday in the town of Sitra hours after the king declared martial law in response to a month of escalating protests. Sitra, the hub of Bahrain's oil industry, has been the site of the worst confrontations.

A funeral for Abdul-Jaffer Mohammed Abdul-Ali, 40, took place in the village of Karranah, west of the capital. His brother Abdul-Ali Mohammed told The Associated Press that Abdel-Jaffer was killed on Wednesday morning on his way to Pearl Square to reinforce the protesters' lines during the military assault on the encampment.

"My brother was not a political man, but he participated in the protest every day to have a better future for his four children," Abdul-Ali said.

"When he heard the Pearl Square was under attack, he went there," he added. "Our country is under siege and he wanted to help liberate it."

Shiites account for 70 percent of the tiny island's half-million people but they are widely excluded from high-level posts and positions in the police and military of the country, whic is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

"Brothers and sisters" in Bahrain should "resist against the enemy until you die or win," Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University, a nationally televised forum seen as expressing the views of Iran's ruling Shiite clergy.

Worshippers chanted angry slogans against Saudi Arabia's royal family, which has sent troops to back Bahrain's king.

"There is no God but Allah, Al Saud is God's enemy," some chanted in Arabic. One Persian banner read, "Death to Al Saud."

Across Iraq, thousands rallied in mostly Shiite cities in the country's largest demonstrations since a wave of dissent spread across the Middle East in the wake of Tunisia's overthrow of its autocratic president.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani – Iraqi-based Shiism's highest ranking cleric in the Mideast – suspended teachings at religious schools across Iraq on Friday in a show of solidarity with the protesters.

A representative of al-Sistani warned during his Friday sermon in the holy city of Karbala that the brutal images of what is happening in Bahrain will inflame passions and lead to sectarian problems in the region.

Bahrain's rulers invited armies from other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries this week to help root out dissent as the month of protests spiraled into widespread calls for an end to the Sunni monarchy. In declaring emergency rule, the king gave the military wide powers to battle the uprising.

There are no apparent links between Iran and Bahrain's Shiite opposition but the U.S. and Sunni leaders in the Persian Gulf leaders have expressed concern that Iran could use the unrest in Bahrain to expand its influence in the region. Iran has recalled its ambassador from Bahrain to protest the crackdown.

The United States bases the 5th Fleet in Bahrain partly to counter Iran's military reach around the region.
Bahrain's King declares Martial Law 

By Lin Noueihed & Frederik Richter on 15 March 2011 for Reuters - (
Image above: Wreckage of Pearl Square monument today. From (

Bahrain's king declared martial law on Tuesday as his government struggled to quell an uprising by the island's Shi'ite Muslim majority that has drawn in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbour Saudi Arabia. An uneasy calm fell on Bahrain overnight, and a defence ministry statement suggested action against protesters camped out for weeks at Pearl roundabout could be swift.

Forces may impose curfews, disperse gatherings and evacuate areas, it said. The three-month state of emergency hands power to Bahrain's security forces, which are dominated by the Sunni Muslim elite. Clashes left three dead.

A hospital source said two men, one Bahraini and the other Bangladeshi, were killed in clashes in the Shi'ite area of Sitra and more than 200 people were wounded in various incidents. Story continues below Advertisement State television said a Bahraini policeman was also killed, denying media reports that a Saudi soldier had been shot dead.

Over 60 percent of Bahrainis are Shi'ites who complain of discrimination at the hands of the Sunni royal family. Calls for the overthrow of the monarchy have alarmed the Sunni minority, which fears that unrest could serve non-Arab Shi'ite power Iran.

The United States, a close ally of both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, said it was concerned about reports of growing sectarianism in the country, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. It dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman to Bahrain to push for dialogue to resolve the crisis. Speaking in Cairo, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said she had told her Saudi counterpart to promote talks to resolve the situation.

"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. Bahraini state media have said Shi'ite opposition activists, who complain the state has been naturalising Sunni foreigners to tip the sectarian balance, are targeting foreigners.

The opposition says the security forces are full of naturalised foreigners willing to use force against protesters. SAUDI ANXIETY On Monday, more than 1,000 Saudi troops rolled into the kingdom at the request of Bahrain's Sunni rulers.

The United Arab Emirates has sent 500 policemen and Qatar said it 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 in Bahrain could inspire the kingdom's own Shi'ite minority.

Iran, which sits across the Gulf from Bahrain, 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 "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 has been gripped by its worst unrest since the 1990s after protesters took to the streets last month, inspired by uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

Unlike those countries, where the mainly Sunni populations united against the regime, Bahrain is split along sectarian lines, raising the risk of a slide into civil conflict. Violent clashes between youths wielding clubs, knives and rocks have become daily occurrences, forcing Bahrain University and many schools to close in order to avoid further trouble.

The United Nations and Britain echoed the U.S. call for restraint and the Group of Eight powers expressed concern, though analysts said the escalation showed the limits of U.S. influence when security was threatened. Amnesty International urged Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to restrain their forces after witnesses said protesters were shot.

The disturbances are a major blow to the economy in Bahrain, whose oil reserves dwindling. Shops and offices were closed on Tuesday and the streets were deserted. Fitch cut Bahrain's credit ratings by two notches to BBB from A-minus and said more downgrades were possible in the short term as political risk soared in the country.

The largest Shi'ite opposition group, Wefaq, condemned the imposition of martial law and urged international intervention. In a sign security could deteriorate, Washington advised against travel to Bahrain due to a breakdown in law and order. Britain also advised against travel to Bahrain and said people without a pressing reason to remain should leave. 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 rocks blocked the main road to the financial district and most shops were shut. Residents have placed skips and pieces of metal on the road, to prevent strangers from entering their neighbourhoods. Young men carrying sticks guarded the entrances to their areas. "We are staying peacefully," said Ali Mansoor at Pearl square. "Our problem is not with Saudi Arabia, it is with the government."


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