Bahrain protesters cheer as police flee

Bahrain protesters cheer as police flee

New flash points: Rulers in crises as mass unrest sweeps across the Arab world

Bahrain protesters cheer as police flee

Crowds had approached Pearl Square in Manama from different directions, creating a standoff with riot police who had moved in earlier to replace troops withdrawn on royal orders. Suddenly police raced to their buses, which drove away mounting kerbs in their haste to escape.

The protesters, cheering and waving national flags, ran to the centre of the traffic circle, reoccupying it even before all the police had left. The crowd waved fleeing policemen through.

“We don’t fear death any more, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of savages they are,” said Umm Mohammed, a teacher wearing a black abaya cloak. Troops in tanks and armoured vehicles earlier withdrew from the square, which they had taken over on Thursday after riot police staged a night-time attack on sleeping protesters who had camped out there, killing four people and wounding 231.

The crowds in Pearl Square soon swelled into the tens of thousands, celebrating a triumph for the mostly Shi’ite protesters who took to the streets on Monday, inspired by popular revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

The authorities had been determined to prevent protesters from turning Pearl Square into a base like Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of a revolt that ousted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Bahrain’s 70 per cent Shi’ite majority has long felt discriminated against in the Gulf Arab island that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty and is a close US and Saudi ally.

Hospital overflowing

Sixty to 80 people were taken to Salmaniya hospital after being affected by tear gas or hit by rubber bullets, a doctor said. He said the hospital was full and did not have enough oxygen to deal with the rush of casualties.

More than 60 people were already in the hospital with wounds sustained on Friday when security forces fired on protesters as they headed to Pearl Square, then still in military hands.

Bahrain’s crown prince called for a national day of mourning “for the sons we have lost”, the state news agency reported.  Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, called for calm, asking citizens to unite and cooperate with all political forces in the country.

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