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The World

March 16, 2011

Bahrain crackdown routs protesters; clashes kill 5

MANAMA, Bahrain — Soldiers and riot police expelled hundreds of protesters from a landmark square in Bahrain's capital on Wednesday, using tear gas and armored vehicles to try to subdue the growing movement challenging the 200-year-old monarchy. At least five people were killed as clashes flared across the kingdom, according to witnesses and officials.

The unrest that began last month has increasingly showed signs of a sectarian showdown: The country's Sunni leaders are desperate to hold power, and majority Shiites are calling for an end to their dynasty. A Saudi-led force from Gulf allies, fearful for their own regimes and worried about Shiite Iran's growing influence, has grown to more than 1,000 soldiers.

Wednesday's full-scale assault launched at dawn in Pearl Square, the center of the uprising inspired by Arab revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. Hours later, security forces were picking through burned debris and other remains of the protest camp.

In another area of Bahrain, one witness described police in a village "hunting" Shiites in what could be part of a wider campaign of intimidation.

The king's announcement Tuesday of a three-month emergency rule and the crackdown on Pearl Square sent a message that authorities will strike back with overwhelming force in the strategic island nation, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Security forces barred journalists and others from moving freely around Manama and other areas of the country a day after emergency rule was declared. A 4 a.m to 4 p.m. curfew was imposed in most of the country.

Witnesses said at least two protesters were killed when the square was stormed. Officials at Ibn Nafees Hospital said a third protester who later died from wounds. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of fears of reprisals from authorities.

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