Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat,(Agencies)- Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles Wednesday to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain’s capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom. At least six people were killed, according to witnesses and officials.
The full-scale assault launched at daybreak swept into Pearl Square, which has been the center of uprising against Bahrain’s rulers since it began more than a month ago. Stinging clouds of tear gas filled streets and black smoke rose from the square from the protesters’ tents set ablaze.
Witnesses said at least two protesters were killed when the square was stormed. Officials at Ibn Nafees Hospital said a third protester later died from gunshot wounds in his back. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from authorities.
Meanwhile, Bahrain state TV also reported that two policemen died when they were hit by a vehicle after anti-government protesters were driven out. The Interior Ministry also at least one other policeman was killed, but did not give the cause.
State TV broadcast video showing military vehicles in the square flying Bahrain’s red-and-white flag as security officials moved through the wreckage of the encampment, set up at the base of a towering monument to the country’s history as a pearl diving center. The video showed the ground littered with debris, including satellite dishes and charred tent poles.
Helicopters crisscrossed over the square, which was cleared by security forces late last month but was later retaken by protesters after a deadly confrontation with army units.
Protesters fled for cover into side streets and security forces blocked main roads into Manama. Mobile phones were apparently jammed in central Manama during the height of the attack and Internet service was at a crawl.
Bahrain’s sectarian clash is increasingly viewed as an extension of the region’s rivalries between the Gulf Arab leaders and Shiite powerhouse Iran. Washington, too, is pulled deeply into the Bahrain’s conflict because of it’s key naval base — the Pentagon’s main Gulf counterweight to Iran’s growing military ambitions.
On Tuesday, Iran and its allied force in Lebanon, Hezbollah, denounced the presence of foreign soldiers in Bahrain. Iran has no direct political links with Bahrain’s main Shiite groups, but Iranian hard-liner in the past have called the tiny island nation that “14th Province” of the Islamic Republic.
Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rhodium Clinton expressed alarm over “provocative acts and sectarian violence,” and said she telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi to stress the need for the foreign forces to promote dialogue.
“We call for calm and restraint on all sides in Bahrain,” Clinton told reporters in Cairo, where she was urging on democratic currents that chased Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak from power last month.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon authorized military family members and civilians with non-emergency jobs to leave Bahrain as violence spread. A spokeswoman for Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Noof Buallay, said flights were operating normally at Manama’s airport.
Bahrain’s stock market was closed due to the state of emergency, a day after Fitch downgraded Bahrain’s sovereign ratings by two notches due to the unrest.
Bahrain 5-yr credit default swaps tightened 7 basis points to 350 basis points on Wednesday, according to Markit data.
The British embassy upgraded the travel warning on its website on Wednesday as the security situation deteriorated and residents trying to flee said flights out of Bahrain were full.
“We recommend that those without a pressing reason to remain should be ready to leave at short notice,” the UK embassy said.
The United Nations and Britain have 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.
The unrest prompted Bahraini officials to issue stark warnings on Tuesday that the three-month state of martial law could mean imposing a curfew, evacuating areas and dispersing gatherings.
“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,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed al-Khalifa said.