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Sat 19 Feb 2011 08:02 AM

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Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence

Security forces leave four dead and hundreds wounded after opening fire on protesters, US President Obama condemns violence

Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence
King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has called for dialogue amid escalating violence
Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence
An injured Bahraini boy reacts in pain at a hospital in Manama on February 18 after police opened fire on anti-regime protesters, wounding dozens of them, a day after four people were killed and some 200 wounded (Getty Images)
Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence
Injured protesters are rushed to hospital following fresh clashes with Bahrain security forces
Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence
Security forces fire teargas at demonstrators in Bahrain. Dozens were injured as police fired on crowds of mourners on Friday, February 18
Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence
Protesters face security forces in Bahrain. Dozens were injured as police fired on crowds of mourners on Friday, February 18
Bahrain king calls for talk amid escalating violence
Two protesters pray as Bahrain security forces bear down on them. Dozens were injured as police fired on crowds of mourners on Friday, February 18

Bahrain's king has offered a national dialogue "with all parties" in an effort to resolve a crisis that has killed four people and wounded hundreds, rocking the island, a key regional ally of the US.

More than 60 people were in hospital on Saturday undergoing treatment for wounds sustained when Bahraini security forces fired on protesters as they headed to Pearl Square on Friday.

The shootings occurred on a day of mass mourning when Shi'ites buried the four people killed a day earlier in the police raid on the Pearl Square traffic circle.

In response to protests against his government that have drawn thousands of people on to the streets, King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa announced late on Friday the Crown Prince had been granted "all the powers to fulfil the hopes and aspirations of all gracious citizens from all sections" in the national dialogue.

US President Barack Obama spoke with the king on Friday evening, condemning the violence and urging the government to show restraint. Obama said the stability of Bahrain, home to the US Middle East fleet, depended upon respect for the rights of its people, according to the White House.

The unrest has presented the US with a now familiar dilemma in the region. It is torn between its desire for stability in a long-standing Arab ally and a need to uphold its own principles about the right of people to demonstrate for democratic change.

The Crown Prince of the non-OPEC minor oil producer, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, appealed for calm on TV. "Today is the time to sit down and hold a dialogue, not to fight," he said.

The unrest in the regional banking hub has shaken foreign confidence in the economy.

In 1999, King Hamad enacted a constitution allowing elections for a parliament with some powers, but royals still dominate a cabinet led by the king's uncle — premier for 40 years.

Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslims account for about 70 percent of the population which is governed by the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty. Shi'ites feel cut out of decision-making, as well as from jobs in the army and security forces.

Both the US and Saudi Arabia see Bahrain as a bulwark against Shi'ite Iran. Saudi Arabia especially fears unrest spreading to its own Shi'ite community, a minority concentrated in the eastern oil-producing area of the world's biggest crude exporter.

Ali Ibrahim, deputy chief of medical staff at Salmaniya hospital, said 66 wounded had been admitted from the clash and that four were in a critical condition.

About 1,000 people gathered outside one hospital, some spilling into the corridors as casualties were brought in, including one with a bloody sheet over his head. Some men wept.

Fakhri Abdullah Rashed said he had seen soldiers shooting at protesters in Pearl Square. "I saw people shot in several parts of their body. It was live bullets," the protester added.

Jalal Firooz, an MP for Wefaq, the main Shi'ite bloc whose 17 members resigned from the 40-seat assembly on Thursday, said demonstrators had been holding a memorial for a protester killed earlier this week when riot police fired tear gas at them. Police had no comment.

The crowd then made for Pearl Square, where army troops opened fire, Firooz said.

Four people were killed and 231 wounded when riot police raided the protest camp in the early hours of Thursday.

Soldiers in tanks and armoured vehicles later took control of the square, which the mainly Shi'ite protesters had hoped to use as a base like Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Feb 11.

Several thousand mourners turned out on Friday to bury those killed in what Bahrain's top Shi'ite cleric called a "massacre" ordered by the island's Sunni ruling family to crush protests.

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Saad Sami 9 years ago

Why not start from now before will be same Egypt and Tunisian scenario!!
please just start from now to change the bad laws and to support poor people, loosing 25% of your credit, better than loose every things. please support the humane please please.