At least 50 people have been injured after soldiers opened fire on thousands of protesters defying a government ban in Bahrain.
Opposition leaders and witnesses said that soldiers began firing as protesters streamed towards Pearl Square in the country’s capital of Manama after attending the funerals of fellow dissidents killed earlier in the week.
Some claimed the gunfire came from either helicopters or sniper nests, with one journalist on the scene claiming to have witnessed army units shooting warning shots from anti-aircraft weapons fitted on top of armoured personnel carriers above the protesters, in an attempt to drive them back from security cordons about 200 yards from the square.
The protesters had been mourning the deaths of five people killed earlier in the week when riot police swept through the protest encampment, razing the tents and makeshift shelters that were inspired by the recent demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Speaking after the funeral of his brother Mahmoud, Ahmed Makki Abu Taki said: “The regime has broken something inside of me. All of these people gathered today have had something broken in them. We used to demand for the prime minister to step down, but now our demand is for the ruling family to get out.”
As soldiers opened fire, protesters described a chaotic scene of tear gas clouds, bullets coming from many directions and people slipping in pools of blood as they sought cover.
Ali al-Haji, a 27-year-old bank clerk, said: “I saw people getting shot in the legs, chest, and one man was bleeding from his head.”
“My eyes were full of tear gas, there was shooting and there was a lot of panic,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a 37-year-old businessman taking part in the protest.
Doctors and medics at the city’s main hospital were seen to be in tears as they tended to the wounded.
Day by day, the crisis in Bahrain has deepened with resentment growing against the king and his inner circle in the tiny island nation that is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, the centrepiece of the Pentagon’s efforts to confront Iranian military influence.
Protesters also have made strong claims of discrimination being made by the government against the Shiite majority. The country’s ruling elite belongs to the Sunni Muslim sect and the West fears that Iran, the main home of the Shiite religion, could use Bahrain’s majority Shiites to spread their influence across the region.
Earlier in the day Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa appeared on TV pledging “a national dialogue” once civil order was restored and called for everyone to withdraw from the streets.
Violent protests were also seen in Yemen and Libya yesterday with anti-government feeling continue to bubble throughout the Middle East. At least eight people have been injured in a grenade attack in Yemen after clashes between both pro and anti-government protesters and riot police. A further 13 people were reported killed in Libya with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime having deployed security forces throughout the country after demonstrations against his rule erupted in several cities this week.
The White House has expressed “strong displeasure” about the rising tensions in the region, and has urged government restraint.
In London, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which licenses arms exports, has revoked a total of 44 licences for Bahrain and eight for Libya, following a review of arms exports to the region launched yesterday in the wake of the violence in Bahrain, which is ongoing, said Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt.