Two killed and many wounded in violent clashes as king authorises “all necessary measures to protect safety of country”.
Several opposition leaders and activists have been arrested in Bahrain following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in the Gulf kingdom.
State television said “leaders of the civil strife” had been arrested for communicating with foreign countries and inciting murder and destruction of property.
Among those arrested were Hassan Mushaima, who had returned last month from self-imposed exile in the UK after Bahraini authorities dropped charges against him, and Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad political society, a secular group comprising mostly Sunni members.
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Also taken into custody early on Thursday was Abdul Jalil al-Singace, a leader of the Haq movement, who was jailed last August but was freed in late February as part of concessions by the Khalifa royal family to protesters.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent, reporting from the capital, Manama, said a crackdown on the opposition’s main voices was under way.
“Significant members of the opposition were arrested overnight, including some prominent activists. Soldiers broke into the houses of these figures early in the morning and made these arrests,” he said.
Later in the day, protesters ignored warnings to stay at home and gathered in Dair and Jidhaf just outside Manama.
Ali al-Aswad, a member of the Shia opposition bloc Al-Wafaq, said police had violently dispersed demonstrators in Dair.
“Police attacked protesters with rubber bullets and teargas. Protests continue here and there in many villages,” he said.
Soldiers backed by tanks were manning checkpoints in Manama and helicopters buzzed over the city. Most shops remained closed.
On Wednesday, Bahraini forces used tanks and helicopters to drive protesters off the streets in the capital, clearing the camp in Pearl Roundabout that had become a symbol of the demonstrations.
At least six people, including three policemen, were killed and more than 1,000 others injured in clashes that ensued.
Amnesty International denounced the crackdown saying that the government was “very clearly trying to suppress any kind of freedom of speech”.
Nicolas Beger, Amnesty’s EU representative, said the security forces were using live ammunition against peaceful demonstrators and had occupied the capital’s main hospital, effectively preventing those injured in the crackdown from getting medical help. He said medical staff had also been targeted.
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“You shoot at them and prevent them from getting help. That is one way of trying to deter other people from participating in demonstrations,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
A senior doctor from Salmaniya Hospital, the country’s largest public hospital where the injured were taken, told Al Jazeera that “Thursday is a critical day”.
“Over 100 medical staff are unable to leave. Soldiers won’t let us. We are running out of critical equipment, such as sterilisation equipment and oxygen tanks,” he said.
The military has banned all protests and on Wednesday imposed a curfew from 4pm to 4am across a large swathe of Manama.
The protesters are seeking political reforms in the kingdom. Many of the demonstrators are Shias, complaining of discrimination by the country’s Sunni rulers.
Wednesday’s crackdown came only two days after Saudi Arabia dispatched its troops and a day after a state of emergency was declared in Bahrain to quash the protests.
Hundreds of Saudi-led troops entered Bahrain on Monday as part of a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) initiative to help protect government facilities there.
The crackdown drew international criticism, with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warning that Bahrain and its GCC allies were “on the wrong track”.
Both Iran and Iraq have condemned the violence.
Iran on Thursday recalled its ambassador from Bahrain, the Associated Press reported.
State TV said Mahdi Aghajafari, Iran’s ambassador in Manama, has been asked to return home for consultations.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, spoke out against the military intervention while Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top-ranked Shia cleric, called on Bahraini authorities to “stop using violence against unarmed citizens”, Hamed al-Khafaf, his spokesman, said.
Meanwhile, both the European Union and NATO urged the authorities to refrain from violence and settle the escalating crisis through political dialogue.