Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Bahrain as in Libya unarmed protesters and medical staff are being killed with helicopters, live fire and snipers

Bahrain’s military and police, along with Saudi and UAE troops are now doing everything Gaddafi’s forces have been condemned for. They are killing unarmed protesters using ground forces and helicopters, as well as firing at medics, seizing ambulances and using them to attack protesters ; and preventing doctors treating the wounded and using snipers to stop the wounded or doctors getting into hospitals. They are also occupying hospitals and beating doctors and nurses there, resulting in the deaths of wounded patients who haven’t been treated as a result. Snipers have been killing protesters in Bahrain for weeks now. The only reaction from the Obama administration is to tell the King of Bahrain that he should show more “restraint” and claims that the US government is “deeply concerned”. Similar actions by Gaddafis forces in Libya warranted reference to the International Criminal Court and talk of military intervention from the air (1) – (6). Hilary Clinton has even ludicrously suggested that Saudi forces sent into Bahrain to help crush the protests “should be used to promote dialogue” (7).

Amnesty International reports that even in earlier incidentsDr Hani Mowafi, a US medical doctor who was part of the Amnesty International team, found a pattern of fatal and serious injuries during February’s violence showing that the security forces used live ammunition at close range, and apparently targeted protesters’ heads, chests and abdomens. They also fired medium-to-large calibre bullets from high-powered rifles on 18 February. The worst violence before today took place early on the morning of 17 February, when five people were killed. Witnesses told Amnesty International that, in scenes that would be repeated on 16 March, tanks blocked access to the Pearl Roundabout as police used shotguns as well as tear gas, batons and rubber bullets to disperse protesters, many of whom were camping there. Among the injured were people clearly identifiable as medical workers, who were targeted by police while trying to help wounded protesters at or near the roundabout.” (8)

If western governments are to have any credibility they must condemn these attacks on civilians and medical staff as much as they have those by Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, end all provision of arms and ‘crowd control’ devices to these governments and consider military intervention in Bahrain too if necessary.

Clinton has also described the attacks on the protesters as “sectarian violence” as if this was a matter of equally armed Sunnis and Shia fighting one another (9). This is nonsense, just as it was in Iraq. This is democracy protesters (Sunni and Shia) against a dictatorship. While some of the wealthier Sunnis back the dictatorship this is merely to preserve their own jobs from competition with the majority. In Iraq similarly some Shias were loosely allied to the US and Iranian governments (the SCIRI faction of mostly wealthier shia) while others – the Sadrists who represented most of the poorer Shia – demanded an immediate end to the occupation. When Sadr was targeted by US forces during what were meant to be peace negotiations he fled to Iran and accepted Iranian support. In Iraq too US forces promoted divisions between Sunnis and Shia in order to try to focus them on fighting one another rather than Coalition forces.

(1) = 16 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain unleashes forces on protesters' camp’, ; Military troops have opened a large-scale assault against hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain's capital. At least two protesters and three policemen were reported to have been killed, and hundreds injured when riot police overran Pearl roundabout, the focal point for a two-month anti-government uprising.

Gunfire was heard throughout the capital and at least five helicopters were circling scenes of clashes, amid widespread panic on the streets below.

Riot police also entered Manama's Salmaniya medical centre for the first time since the demonstrations began and doctors reported they were being prevented from reaching the hospital and treating patients inside.

(2) = BBC 15 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain king declares state of emergency after protests’,

(3) CNN 16 Mar 2011 ‘Witnesses: Security forces attack protesters and doctors in Bahrain’, Security forces blocked highways leading to the capital and formed a ring around the country's main hospital, Salmaniya Medical Complex, not letting people enter or leave, witnesses said. Security forces then stormed the hospital and beat staffers, several doctors there said.  Doctors have been hiding in rooms, said Yousif Sharaf, a doctor at the hospital. "We are trapped," Sharaf said. "We are asking for the security forces to please stay outside the hospital. They are beating the staff." Fatima Haji, another doctor, also said she was trapped in the hospital."We are in a small group hiding," Haji said, her voice rising with emotion. "This is a government hospital. How can this happen in a government hospital?"Haji said two people had died in the hospital Wednesday morning, and she feared for the other patients there because the doctors were not able to work.

(4) = BBC News 20 Feb 2011 ‘Bahrain protests: Your stories’,

(5) = BBC World Service 16 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain security forces in crackdown on Pearl Square’,

(6) = BBC News 16 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain crackdown on protests in Manama's Pearl Square’,

(7) = Independent 17 Mar 2011 ‘Bahrain protesters driven out of Pearl Square by tanks and tear gas’,

(8) = Amnesty International 17 Mar 2011 ‘Evidence of Bahraini security forces’ brutality revealed’,

(9) = See (7) above

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