66 injured as troops fire at protesters in Bahrain

Saturday, February 19, 2011

MANAMA/LONDON - Troops fired at anti-government protesters in Manama, wounding at least 66 as Bahrain’s king Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa asked his eldest son to start a national dialogue to resolve the worsening political crisis, media reports said.

According to BBC, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who earlier called on protesters to withdraw from the streets, is authorised to talk to all parties, a statement said. The protests against the regime began a week ago.

The soldiers fired at demonstrators trying to march into the centre of the capital Manama Friday after attending the funerals of the four people killed in clashes between demonstrators and police, that also left at least 50 wounded.

However, Al Jazeera has put the number of people injured in the attack at 66. Officials at a hospital said some of the injured had gunshot wounds to the head and chest.

Many of the protesters in Manama, which has a Shia Muslim majority, have been calling for the overthrow of the Sunni Muslim royal family.

But protest leaders are reported to have postponed an anti-government demonstration scheduled for Saturday.

Speaking on Bahrain state TV, Prince Salman expressed regret for “these painful days” and called for unity.

“We are at a crossroads,” he said.

“Youths are going out on the street believing that they have no future in the country, while others are going out to express their love and loyalty. But this country is for you all, for the Shia and Sunnis.”

Army units were seen Friday firing anti-aircraft weapons over the heads of protesters in Manama, BBC said.

The funeral procession of one of protesters killed earlier this week turned into another anti-government demonstration.

Mourners were trying to make their way to the Salmaniya Hospital, where their injured colleagues were being treated, when they came under fire close to Pearl Square.

The square in the centre of the capital has been sealed off by the army to prevent further large-scale demonstrations.

Protesters described a chaotic scene of tear gas clouds, bullets coming from many directions and people slipping in pools of blood as they sought cover.

More than 120 people were admitted to hospital after the clashes, many suffering the effects of tear gas, some with broken bones and one person with a gunshot wound to the leg, medical officials told BBC.

A doctor at Salmaniya Hospital told Al Jazeera that the hospital is full of severely injured people after the latest shootings.

“We need help! Our staff is entirely overwhelmed. They are shooting at people’s heads. Not at the legs. People are having their brains blown out,” the doctor said, describing the chaos at the hospital as something close to a war zone.

Four people were killed early Thursday when police cracked down on sleeping protesters in Manama. By daybreak, tanks were seen rolling down the streets of the restive city swept by the winds of change that began in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bahrain’s most senior Shia cleric, Sheikh Issa Qassem, has described attacks on protesters as a “massacre” and said the government had shut the door to dialogue.

Western countries have urged Bahrain to show restraint in dealing with protesters and called for meaningful reform in the small Gulf state kingdom.

US President Barack Obama Friday phoned King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa to urge restraint.

Bahrain, a close American ally, must respect the “universal rights” of its people and embrace “meaningful reform”, he said.

Bahrain, a tiny country with a population of less than one million, is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and is near another key US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

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