Bahrain Cracks Down on Protesters

BY Francine Uenuma  February 17, 2011 at 7:49 AM EST

Updated 1:30 p.m. ET

Members of the main Shiite opposition party were resigning from parliament, according to one of their leaders, Abdul Jalil Khalil, in response to the use of violence to crackdown on protesters. The country’s finance minister, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, said “restraint is being used,” but that police had sought to peacefully remove those encamped and been attacked.

In addition to protesting against the al Khalifa monarchy, marchers also want Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al Khalifa to step down. He has been in office for four decades.

Foreign ministers from Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were expected to meet Thursday to discuss the situation.

Riot police broke up a protest camp in Manama, Bahrain, the island nation’s capital, early Thursday, killing three people and injuring hundreds. State television announced that the army would be taking steps to clampdown on the protests. The presence of helicopters and tanks has effectively shut down much of the city as a state of emergency was imposed.

The raid took place at an encampment in Pearl Square, a monument in the heart of the city. Women and children were also reportedly staying in the square.

A wounded Shiite Bahraini demonstrator is taken to a hospital in Manama after being assaulted by riot police on Feb. 17, 2011. Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

The country is led by a Sunni monarchy but has a large Shiite population. Some protesters were calling for a civil government, despite a ruling monarchy that is more than two centuries old. Period bouts of protest have been seen before, though the scale of this week’s demonstrations has been larger and more pronounced. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa had apologized for earlier violence against protesters.

Bahrain is an established U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th fleet. In a speech Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refrained from criticizing Bahrain’s government but said, “Let me be clear: Our support for democracy and human rights is not about siding for or against governments or citizens. This is about standing up for universal principles.”