Bahrain Declares a Three-Month State of Emergency as Gulf Soldiers Arrive
Bahrain declared a three-month state of emergency as a second contingent of forces from Gulf states arrived in the kingdom to support its government following persistent protests.
King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa asked the head of the military to guarantee security, state television said. Police opened fire on protesters in the village of Sitra, killing one, the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said in a statement. Hundreds of people were injured, according to Ali Al-Akri, a doctor at the emergency room of the Salmaniya Medical Complex. He didn’t have details on the kind of injuries sustained.
Imposing a state of emergency “probably means they are running out of options,” said Gala Riani, a Middle East analyst at London-based forecaster IHS Global Insight. “If we see more violence against protesters than I suspect it’ll incite further unrest.”
Clashes between mainly Shiite protesters and Bahraini forces escalated on March 13, with more than 100 people injured as demonstrators demanded democracy through elections from their Sunni monarch. The protests have fueled fears that unrest may spread to Saudi Arabia. Many Shiite Bahrainis retain cultural and family ties with Iran and Shiites in eastern Saudi Arabia; Bahrain’s ruling family has close links with Saudi Arabia, which holds 20 percent of global oil reserves. Shiites comprise as much as 70 percent of the Bahraini population.
Bahrain’s long-term foreign currency Issuer Default Rating was lowered from A- to BBB, the lowest investment grade, Fitch said in a statement today. The long-term Issuer Default Ratings were put on creditwatch negative, indicating that more cuts may follow. Bahrain’s credit ratings were cut on Feb. 21 at Standard & Poor’s, another rating agency.
Troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Saudi Arabia, moved into Bahrain yesterday, the first cross-border intervention since a wave of popular uprisings swept through parts of the Arab world. Additional forces arrived today, BNA reported.
Bahrain denied a report that a Saudi soldier was killed, according to the official Bahrain News Agency.
The yield on Bahrain’s 5.5 percent bond maturing in March 2020 climbed 33 basis points to a record 6.93 percent as of 6:08 p.m. in Dubai, according to prices compiled by Bloomberg. Credit-default swaps rose 40 basis points to 355, the highest since July 2009.
Iran criticized the GCC deployment. “The presence of foreign troops and meddling into Bahrain’s internal affairs will only further complicate the issue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran today.
Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, recalled its ambassador to Iran after Mehmanparast’s statement, Bahrain’s state television reported.
“Bahrain strongly denounces and absolutely rejects the Iranian statement which is considered an intervention in its domestic affairs and a threat to regional and international peace and security,” Foreign Ministry Undersecretary for Regional and GCC Affairs Hamad Al Amer said, according to BNA.
In Sitra, Bahraini police fired tear gas at hundreds of Shiite protesters wielding metal rods. At least two police helicopters could be seen flying above the village. Riot police fired rubber bullets and shotguns, killing one protester, the Youth Society said.
In the capital, Manama, thousands of protesters marched toward the Saudi Embassy.
“The Saudis are adding fire to the situation,” said Hussein Ali, a 40-year-old mechanical engineer, who camped overnight on a main street in the financial district. “We consider the Gulf force to be an invader.”
Ebrahim Sharif, head of the opposition National Democratic Action Society, called the GCC deployment “an occupation.”
GCC forces will protect “vital installations in Bahrain and maintain stability and security,” Jamal Fakhro, the first deputy chairman of the Bahrain Shura Council, said yesterday in a telephone interview.
King Hamad has offered a national “dialogue” in response to the demonstrations, which hasn’t quieted protesters.
The king declared the state of emergency “after all peaceful doors to find solutions to the violence,” Fakhro said on state-run television today. “I am sad about what happened and sad about the bad economic, social and political situation we have reached. Bahrain is looking into an abyss.”
Gulf states said on March 10 that they plan to provide Bahrain and Oman, which also faces a popular protest movement, with $10 billion each over a decade.
“The GCC stands behind the Sunni-controlled monarchies in the region and it is not a political structure they are willing to negotiate on,” Riani said.
Saudi Shiites, who make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population, have been holding protests every Thursday and Friday for the past few weeks in towns and villages a short drive from the Bahrain causeway connecting the two countries. Saudi Shiites have demanded the release of Shiite prisoners held without public trial since 1996.
The U.S. State Department urged citizens to defer travel to Bahrain and advised those in the island kingdom to “consider departing,” the State Department said in an e-mailed statement.
The U.S. is urging Bahrain to allow nonviolent protests and encouraging Gulf nations to use restraint, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
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