Saudi Troops Head to Bahrain on Heels of Visit from US Defense Sec. Gates
Democracy for Bahrain is having a high price. Take a look at these videos from yesterdays’ demonstrations – really, take a look.
The protesters were attempting to block the road to the Bahrain Financial Harbor, the main business center of the island. [UPDATE, 3AM EDT: there are reports of a new attempt by protesters to block it again.]
And now we read in today’s Guardian:
Saudi forces are preparing to intervene in neighbouring Bahrain, after a day of clashes between police and protesters who mounted the most serious challenge to the island’s royal family since demonstrations began a month ago.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain is expected to formally invite security forces from Saudi Arabia into his country today, as part of a request for support from other members of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council.
[UPDATE, 9AM EDT: Troops from a number of Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have arrived in Bahrain.]
The British Foreign Office has issued a travel warning that references a Saudi intervention as well:
Following an increase in protests over recent days, confrontations between protestors and police on Sunday 13 March, reports of protestors establishing roadblocks, and reports that the Saudi National Guard will enter Bahrain, we also advise British nationals currently in Bahrain to remain at home until further notice.
Jane Kinninmont, of UK’s Chatham House, is in Bahrain and reports that journalists are having trouble getting into Bahrain now – and that there are rumors journalists already there will have to leave today in advance of a Saudi move.
This move to bring in Saudi troops appears to follow the demonstrators attempt to block the Bahrain’s financial district leading to the crown prince issuing this statement:
The crown prince, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, said in a televised statement that Bahrain had “witnessed tragic events” during a month of unprecedented political unrest.
Warning that “the right to security and safety is above all else”, he added: “Any legitimate claims must not be made at the expanse of security and stability.”
Which was followed by this from the GCC, the council that includes Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE:
The secretary general of the Gulf Co-operation Council, Abdulrahman bin Hamad al-Attiya, expressed the “full solidarity with Bahrain’s leadership and people”, adding that “safeguarding security and stability in one country is a collective responsibility”.
The GCC went on to raise the spector of outside parties – meaning Iran – being involved in the demonstrations, a message also repeated by Sec. Defense Gates who flew to Bahrain to meet with the monarchy on Friday, apparently reinforcing the message of Adm. Mullen’s visit two weeks ago. . . .
But in contrast to the uprisings in Egypt and Libya, Washington has continued to back the government of the Sunni royal family, to the growing consternation of the largely Shiite protesters.
On Friday a senior American military official said the administration remained optimistic and patient. “We’re still a little bit in the talks-before-the-talks period, but we’re hoping the dialogue will start soon,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules imposed by the Pentagon. “I don’t think anybody expects you’re going to have democracy overnight.”
Obama administration officials say King Hamad listened to the president when he urged the king to pull back his security forces from the protesters and so has earned the right to try to manage reform on his own. Human rights activists remain skeptical about the prospects.
According to the official DoD statement about the trip:
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the secretary believed it was important to engage with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa about the situation in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region.
Gates has two messages, Morrell said: “A reassurance of our support, as well as encouragement of the national dialogue, which is in its nascent stages now.”
This visit will see the secretary, as the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit the kingdom since protests began, in more of a diplomatic role than on previous visits, the press secretary noted.
“These are … clearly political issues,” Morrell said. “But [Gates is] very much looking forward to the opportunity to convey these messages on behalf of the United States government.”
…A senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters en route to Bahrain the country is an important strategic partner, both as home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and as an important regional balance to Iran.
It’s worth noting that the official DoD statement goes on to claim that:
Opposition leaders have not yet listed their conditions for a national dialogue, but the United States anticipates progress toward that end soon, the official said.
This claim will surprise the opposition who have made quite clear demands for equal representation in government, an increase in power for the Parliament which is currently under the control of the royal family, equal access to employment for the 70% of the population who are Shia and an end to political detentions and the use of torture.
But of course, as the statement ended:
The U.S. message to friends and allies is, “All of the … deep strategic interests we have with them remain the same as they were six months ago,” the official said. “But one of those interests is … stability.”
As the videos of the Bahraini police actions began to circulate, the White House did issue one of its standard statements which seem to carry little weight in comparison to the “stability” message delivered in person:
‘The United States strongly condemns the violence that has taken place in Yemen and Bahrain today. We urge the governments of these countries to show restraint, and to respect the universal rights of their people,’ White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
‘We urge the government of Bahrain to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force.’
It’s certainly striking to see the message control between Bahrain, the GCC and Gates – even with the official call for “dialogue.”
The protesters had attempted to block access to the Financial district on Sunday morning with the resulting crackdown by police seen in the videos.
Mohammed Almkrq, a photographer from Al Wasat, Bahrain’s independent newspaper, who was covering the demonstrations at the Financial Harbor was beaten as he sat near the security forces by plainclothes police thugs and is no hospitalized with injuries to his face hands and back.
His paper reports: http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&sl=ar&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Falwasatnews.com%2Fmobile%2Fnews-532284.html&act=ur
The cameraman was a colleague Mohamed Almkrq kicked and beaten and insulted, arrested, and after the intervention of mediators was transferred to hospital for treatment.
His camera and mobile phone were destroyed after being used to beat him over the head.
There are reports of 900 to 1000 protesters injured in the clashes while 14 Police were also injured. There are numerous reports – and some videos – of roving gangs of thugs, said by some to be plainclothes police – attacking demonstrators in the streets and students near the university as well.
The Guardian notes that:
Earlier on Sunday, police moved in on Pearl Square, a site of occupation by members of Bahrain’s Shia majority, who are calling for an elected government and equality with Bahrain’s Sunnis.
Witnesses said security forces surrounded the protesters’ tent compound, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the activists in the largest effort to clear the square since a crackdown last month that left four dead after live ammunition was fired.
Activists tried to stand their ground yesterday and chanted “Peaceful, peaceful” as the crowd swelled into thousands, with protesters streaming to the square to reinforce the activists’ lines, forcing the police to pull back by the early afternoon.
At Bahrain University, Shia demonstrators and government supporters held competing protests that descended into violence when plainclothes pro-government backers and security forces forced students blocking the campus main gate to seek refuge in classrooms and lecture halls, the Associated Press reported.
This video shows what happens when a democracy activist attempts to film the police and the thugs gathering outside Bahrain University – at minute 1:56 the car is shot with rubber bullets.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today has expressed particular concern for the numerous messages on social media calling for the killing of three leading Bahraini human rights activists – noting these calls for assassinations include the addresses, workplaces and other details of “Mr. Mohammed Al-Maskati president of the Bahrain Youth Human Rights, Mr. Naji Fuse member of the organization, and Mr. Abdallah Al-Khawaja, former director of Front Line of Human Rights.”
The spokesman stressed feeling very concerned about those threats that are an incitement, and called on the authorities to ensure effective protection for them.
Note that the second video carries the YouTube warning that:
The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.
Just as the video of the peaceful Saudi demonstration did the other day – more message control?