Bahrain army clamps down after bloody end to protests

Manama, Feb 17 (AFP) Bahrain''s army deployed acrossManama today and vowed "strict measures" to restore orderafter a violent police raid on anti-regime protesters killedfour, wounded scores and enraged the opposition.

Protesters gathered during the day outside a hospitalwhere the wounded are being treated to chant anti-regimeslogans, while the largest Shiite opposition bloc said it wasquitting parliament and called on the government to resign.

Concerned that events in Bahrain could destabilise theentire region, Arab foreign ministers of the Gulf monarchieswere to hold an emergency meeting later today in Manama,Bahrain''s foreign ministry said.

Witnesses said riot police stormed through PearlSquare, the epicentre of pro-democracy protests that haveshaken the Gulf island state, in the early hours of todayfiring hollow-point bullets, rubber bullets and tear gas,sending hundreds of protesters fleeing.

Up to 95 protesters were wounded in the operationwhich was launched without warning at around 3.00 am (midnightGMT), opposition members and witnesses said.

"They attacked the square, where hundreds of peoplewere spending the night in tents," said one witness,37-year-old Fadel Ahmad.

At the city''s main Salmaniya hospital, medical staffwere overwhelmed as ambulances and private cars were stillferrying in the injured more than three hours after theassault began.

Relatives of the victims gathered outside thehospital, angry and weeping and while in the course of the dayhundreds of people joined them, chanting "Death to Al-Khalifa"-- referring to the royal family. Others queued to donateblood.

Security forces deployed across Manama, with armedpolice blocking roads leading to the square and setting upcheckpoints in other streets, causing heavy trafficcongestion.

Witnesses said dozens of armoured military vehicleswere parked near Pearl Square as the military warned of"strict measures" to restore security in Bahrain, whereclashes this week have left a total of six people dead.

Bahrain''s defence forces will "take all strict andpreventive measures to restore security and public order," adefence ministry spokesman said in a statement.

The ministry also urged people to "refrain fromgathering in vital areas," in Bahrain.

Interior ministry spokesman General Tarek al-Hassansaid in an earlier statement that police had had no option butto raid the square.

"The security forces evacuated Pearl Square ... afterhaving exhausted all chance of dialogue," Hassan said, asquoted by the official news agency BNA.

A US official said in Washington that US Secretary ofState Hillary Clinton had spoken to Bahraini Foreign MinisterSheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, urging Bahrain to showrestraint over protests. (AFP)

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