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The World

March 16, 2011

Bahrain crackdown routs protesters; clashes kill 5

(Continued)

MANAMA, Bahrain —

In Sitra, resident Rania Ali said police were charging after Shiites even as they ran for shelter.

"I'm scared. I can't move from my house," said Ali, who is a Sunni married to a Shiite man. "I saw them chasing Shiites like they were hunting ... It is a cleansing war against our Shiite brothers."

Roadblocks around the country also prevented injured protesters from reaching the main state hospital, which was working on generator power. The extent of the blackout in Manama was not immediately clear.

The official Bahrain news agency said the emergency rule bans "rallies and disrupting the public order," restricts movement and could imposes curfew.

For Bahrain's authorities, clearing Pearl Square would be more of a symbolic blow against protesters than a strategic victory. Opposition groups can still mobilize marches and take other actions against the leadership.

Bahrain's sectarian clash is increasingly viewed as an extension of the region's rivalries between the Gulf Arab leaders and Iran. Washington, too, is pulled deeply into the Bahrain's conflict because of its key naval base — the Pentagon's main Gulf counterweight to Iran's growing military ambitions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday denounced the Bahraini government's crackdown and the presence of the Saudi-led force.

"The people's demands for change must be respected. How is it possible to stop waves of humanity with military force?" Ahmadinejad said, according to Iranian state TV.

Iran has no direct political links with Bahrain's main Shiite groups, but Iranian hard-liner in the past have called the tiny island nation that "14th Province" of the Islamic Republic.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed alarm over "provocative acts and sectarian violence," and said she telephoned Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saudi to stress the need for the foreign forces to promote dialogue.

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