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Egypt-Inspired Protests Echo in Middle East as Obama Urges Nonviolence

February 15, 2011 at 8:41 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The wave of Middle East protests shook Bahrain again today. The small Persian Gulf state is headquarters for the U.S. Navy’s Middle East fleet. Today, thousands of people demanded political reforms and greater freedoms, and the country’s king made a rare national TV address.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News narrates our report.

And a warning: Some of the images may be disturbing.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: This was the scene in the center of Bahrain’s capital this afternoon: more than 10,000 people demanding democratic reform in the largest political protest in recent memory, the chant identical to the one which echoed across Egypt, “We demand the fall of the regime.”

The trouble in the island kingdom began yesterday, when police fired pellets, rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters. The attacks were without warning, and eyewitnesses said that any group that dared gather, however peacefully, was quickly dispersed.

One man, Ali Mushaima, was shot in the back by riot police, the pictures of his dead body quickly posted on the Internet. The dead man was 22 and from a poor Shia village outside the capital. And mourners at the hospital vowed that his death would not be in vain.

Today, thousands attended his funeral. They demanded the resignation of Bahrain’s prime minister, a sheik from the Sunni royal family, who has held the job for 40 years. Another man was shot dead by riot police shortly after these pictures were filmed, prompting the country’s main Shia opposition group to boycott Parliament.

This afternoon, Bahrain’s King Hamad made a rare appearance on television. He promised a committee would investigate the deaths of what he called “two of our dear sons.” But a decade of promises of more civil and political rights seems to be falling on deaf ears.

This was the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama, tonight, what they’re already calling the new Tahrir Square. It’s been a party atmosphere for much of the day, but the police are watching. And yesterday, they stopped anyone from getting here, high unemployment and human rights abuses sparking demands for change at the top, which the king’s speech has failed to dampen.

MAN (through translator): The king wants the protests to calm down, but the people won’t accept that anymore.

MARYAM AL-KHAWAJA, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights: The people in the Pearl Roundabout have — didn’t even listen to the speech, let alone care what the king really had to say. All they’re demanding is that the regime leave. And they’re saying that they’re going to stay here. And people are bring tents, blankets, things to sleep on. And they’re saying that they’re going to stay here until the regime falls.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: “We want all our freedoms,” say the banners held by these women.

The Bahraini king has promised reforms. But the fallout from Egypt and Tunisia has now arrived in the Persian Gulf, with state violence in the last 48 hours driving thousands more on to the streets.

GWEN IFILL: In Egypt, a new committee began work amending the constitution. The group included the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood. And the military said it wants a new government installed within six months. It also called again for an end to strikes and protests.

And CBS News announced today that correspondent Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted in Cairo last Friday. She had been covering celebrations after President Mubarak’s resignation. She’s now recovering in a U.S. hospital.

Elsewhere, the unrest in Yemen continued for a fifth day, with protesters confronting police and government supporters. The two sides faced off in the capital city, Sanaa. Protesters chanted demands for the ouster of president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, a U.S. ally.

In Iraq, hundreds of people demonstrated in several major cities. They condemned corruption and a lack of jobs and basic services.

And hard-liners in Iran’s Parliament demanded opposition leaders be tried and executed. On Monday, thousands of people rallied in support of Egypt and against Iran’s leaders.

President Obama urged governments across the Middle East today not to use force on protesters. He singled out Iran for criticism.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The message that we’ve sent, even before the demonstrations in Egypt, has been to friend and foe alike, that the world is changing, that you have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity, and that if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change, you can’t be behind the curve.

I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran.