BAHRAIN: Hospitals and health centres targeted in attacks - IRISH TIMES - 170311

Hospitals and health centres targeted in attacks - IRISH TIMES - 170311

FINIAN CUNNINGHAM in Manama

BAHRAIN: THE PERSIAN Gulf island of Bahrain was in shock last night after two days of an unrelenting military crackdown against the civilian population. There were reports of widespread violence by state security forces in conjunction with troops and helicopters from the Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Unconfirmed reports put the number of dead to be at least 20, with hundreds injured and many people unaccounted for. “The death toll may be much higher,” said one pro-democracy activist, “because many of the injured were left to die in the streets. Ambulances were stopped from reaching villages where police, militia and army had attacked with Apache helicopters.”

Another young female activist said she feared a massacre as hundreds of army personnel carriers were reportedly moving into villages and towns.

Doctors told how hospitals and health centres were attacked with gunfire, medical staff assaulted, and the injured and dead removed by state forces.

Militia, believed to be plainclothes police, surrounded Salmaniya hospital in the capital, Manama, and prevented medics from entering or leaving.

Some of the doctors could not be reached by phone last night. There were reports of heavy machine-gun fire in the environs of Salmaniya.

A senior consultant at Naim health centre near the Pearl Square protest camp in Manama said her staff were held at gunpoint by security forces and were physically assaulted for “helping terrorists”.

Yesterday began with a dawn military attack on Pearl Square where for almost four weeks tens of thousands of anti-government protesters demanding the establishment of a democracy have been holding a peaceful nightly vigil. They want the autocratic US-backed regime headed by King Hamad al-Khalifa to step down and be replaced by an elected government.

Tanks and helicopters used live fire as troops cleared the square, burning protesters’ tents.

State forces then targeted the villages of Sanabis, Daih, Belad and other mainly Shia villages deemed to be supporting the anti-government uprising. There were reports of masked soldiers in civilian clothes raiding homes in Sitra, in the east.

State of emergency powers, decreed on Tuesday, have imposed a curfew from 4pm to 4am and allow for the “tracking down and arrest of suspects”.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch yesterday condemned what it described as the violent crackdown on civilians.

One Bahraini medic made this plea last night to the United Nations: “We are the people of Bahrain and we are being killed brutally by the regime with the help of Saudi military. Please help us.” Across the region, there were demonstrations in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iran against the invasion of foreign forces.

There was widespread anger in Bahrain and across the region at what many called a slaughter against civilians, and what they believe is the involvement of western governments in the repression. “We are sure that the US must have given a green light to this violence against our people,” said one Bahraini.

The New York Times on Tuesday reported that “a Saudi official said the United States was informed on Sunday that the Saudi troops would enter Bahrain on Monday”.

The crackdown, however, drew criticism from the US, where Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, said events in the Gulf kingdom were “alarming” and that Bahrain and its neighbours were “on the wrong track” in their response. “There is no security answer to this,” she told CBS News.

The US bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.