Posted On » March 16 - 22, 2011 (Volume:10 / Issue 11)
THE Gulf countries' Peninsula Shield Force rolled into Bahrain this week as tensions escalated and expats were warned to 'stay indoors' by their embassies, writes Stan Szecowka.
Motorists were held up by police on the highways on Monday evening as armoured vehicles slowly moved towards the capital, Manama. The move came after month-long anti-regime protests escalated into violence and attempts were made to blockade the financial harbour 24-hours earlier.
Demonstrators erected home-made barricades outside the British Embassy which prompted this message to be sent from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office: "In light of recent developments, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has changed its travel advice to advise against all travel to the Kingdom of Bahrain and ask that British nationals in Bahrain remain at home until further notice.
"We have done this in response to an intensification of protests and continuing unrest. We call on the authorities to avoid the use of excessive force and on all parties to exercise restraint. There are numerous demonstrations planned in coming days and unofficial road blocks have been established in various locations around the country. Violence is possible at any of these."
British Ambassador Jamie Bowden told GulfWeekly that he was unwilling to add anything to this cautionary statement to ensure there were no 'mixed messages'.
The embassy, like its European, US and Asian counterparts urged expats having to travel within Bahrain that they should maintain a high level of security awareness, particularly in public places and on major highways, and to avoid large crowds and demonstrations.
Pro-government lawmakers urged His Majesty King Hamad on Monday to impose martial law to put an end to a month of unrest that has left the nation sharply divided.
The parliament bloc's statement, carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency, asked for a three-month declaration of martial law and claimed 'extremist movements' were trying to disrupt the country and push it toward sectarian conflict. The appeal also seeks a curfew and the dispatch of army units around the country.
Our sister newspaper, the Gulf Daily News, said the outside forces would protect key sites such as electricity stations and oil facilities.
Bahrain is being supported by forces from the GCC, a military, economic and political alliance. Their mission will be limited to protecting vital facilities, such as oil, electricity and water installations, and financial and banking facilities.
The move comes after Bahraini police clashed on Sunday with demonstrators in one of the most violent confrontations since sevean protesters died last month.
After trying to push back demonstrators for several hours, police backed away and youths built barricades across the highway to the main financial district of the Gulf banking hub.
Those barricades were still up on Monday morning, with protesters checking cars at the entrance to the Pearl Roundabout, the focal point of weeks of protests. On the other side of the same highway, police set up a roadblock preventing any cars moving from the airport towards the financial harbour.
The expat population has suddenly been caught up in the unrest with incidents involving the Asian community.
A 30-year-old Pakistani was killed and a Bangladeshi suffered serious head injuries and three others needed hospital treatment after coming under attack in Manama. MD Saiful Islam, counsellor at the Bangladesh Embassy, said a senior embassy official was at the bedside of the injured at Salmaniya Medical Complex.
At the time of going to press, Bahrain City Centre mall was closed as was Geant hypermarket along with many other shops, schools and businesses.
Stevie George, GulfWeekly's music columnist and DJ, said: "The journey from Juffair to Amwaj on Monday evening was chaotic, especially near Hidd where gangs of youths armed with sticks and batons were roaming about in the middle of the road."
Indian Tanya Bhatia, 24, who works in an interior design company, was told to stay at home by her employer.
She said: "I received a text on Sunday saying not to come in. It was followed by another on Monday morning saying not to come in until further notice and that we would be updated."
Bahraini Mohammed Al Muhanna, 28, who works for National Motors, said: "I received a text this morning saying not to come in until further notice."
Bahraini Khalil Salman, 29, who works for Gulf International Bank in Manama, said: "I am still going to work as requested but am being put up in a hotel as I cannot get back home. In fact I am the only one in my office. I feel like a stranger in my own country."