18 Feb 2011

Bahrain: ‘shots fired’ as demonstrators defy protest ban

There are reports that shots have been fired on the streets of Bahrain. Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman is told that government forces have fired on anti-government demonstrators.

Bahraini troops shot at protesters near Pearl Square on Friday and wounded many, according to a former Shi’ite lawmaker.

Jalal Firooz, of the Wefaq bloc that resigned from Parliament on Thursday, said demonstrators had been elsewhere in the city, marking the death of a protester killed earlier this week when riot police had fired tear gas at them.

The demonstrators then made for Pearl Square, where army troops who took it over after the police raid on Thursday, opened fire, he said. “There are many casualties, some are critical,” Firooz added.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa reportedly asked the Crown Prince to start a national dialogue “with all parties” to resolve the crisis.

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa had been given “all the powers to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of all gracious citizens from all sections”.

Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Rugman is in Bahrain. He’s been told that government forces have shot at anti-government demonstrators and says eyewitnesses and a doctor have told him that one man was shot in the head.

“At least 23 were wounded – two seriously – as protesters scattered for their lives,” he reports. “The regime here now acting as if it’s fighting for its very survival – calls by allies for restraint falling on deaf ears.”

Like Egypt, he says, Bahrain is locked in a showdown with its own people. “Bahrain’s Crown Prince is tonight talking of the need for dialogue, but the more funerals – and the more State brutality – the more dangerously divided this country becomes.”

At least four people were killed on Thursday morning when security forces fired on protesters.

A ban has been announced on public gatherings across the country but large crowds, from both sides, have been on the streets – only the pro-government demonstration given permission to go ahead by the authorities.


Thousands of people attended the funerals of demonstrators on Friday, both in the capital and in the southern village of Sitra, where three people were buried.

Jonathan Rugman said chants of “there is no difference between Sunni and Shi’a” and “all we want is freedom – revolution until we get it” could be heard during the funerals.

One opposition leader said: “We have to continue peaceful protests…we want to change the whole regime.”

Mohammed Al-Maskati was at one of the funerals in Sitra this morning. He told Channel 4 News protesters are "very, very angry".

"They were shouting 'down, down with the government' and asking for an investigation about what happened to all the people who were killed.

"We are very, very angry because I went to see the body of one of the men who was killed yesterday and actually, every bone in his body was injured.

"I am told now there is a protest in the hospital by the doctors and nurses against what the Ministers did yesterday by refusing to send ambulances to the injured people."
Bahrain protests: thousands demonstrate at funerals (Getty)

International response

In Britain, the Foreign Office says it is reviewing arms export licences to Bahrain. Minister Alistair Burt said that 250 cartridges of tear gas and other riot control equipment had been licensed for export within the past nine months.

Those licences could be ‘urgently revoked’ if they are found to breach UK and EU export criteria.

“We closely consider allegations of human rights abuses,” Mr Burt said. “We will not authorise any exports which might provoke or prolong regional or internal conflicts or which might be used to facilitate internal repression.”

Live Blog: Middle East revolt spreads to Bahrain

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said; “We are deeply concerned about the events in Bahrain and by the level of violence. We would urge all sides to avoid violence.”

In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists that she had called Bahrain’s Foreign Minister and told him that all people have the right to peaceful protest.

Calling Bahrain a friend and an ally, she said; “We call on restraint from the Government to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilised excessive force against peaceful demonstrators and we urge a return to a process that will result in real meaningful changes to the people there.”

Bahrain is strategically important to the United States and is the base for it’s 5th Navy Fleet.

Who Knows Who: Bahrain's sectarian gulf