Manama (Bahrain), Feb 18 (AP) Soldiers fired tear gasand shot heavy weapons into the air as thousands of protestmarchers defied a government ban today and streamed toward thelandmark square that had been the symbolic center of theuprising against the Gulf nation''s leaders.
Hospital officials said at least 20 people wereinjured, some seriously.
Ambulance sirens were heard throughout central Manamaa day after riot police swept through the protest encampmentin Pearl Square, killing at least five people and razing thetents and makeshift shelters that were inspired by thedemonstrators in Cairo''s Tahrir Square.
An Associated Press cameraman saw army units shootinganti-aircraft weapons, fitted on top of armored personnelcarriers, above the protesters in apparent warning shots andattempts to drive them back from security cordons about 200meters from the square. Marchers fled, some slipping on poolsof blood in the street.
One marcher claimed live ammunition was used againstprotesters, who chanted: "To the square!"
"People started running in all directions and bulletswere flying," said Ali al-Haji, a 27-year-old bank clerk. "Isaw people getting shot in the legs, chest and one man wasbleeding from his head." In the past, security forces hadmostly used rubber bullets.
The clash came hours after funeral mourners andworshippers at Friday prayers called for the toppling of theWestern-allied monarchy in the tiny island nation that is hometo the US Navy''s 5th Fleet, the centerpiece of the Pentagon''sefforts to confront Iranian military influence in the region.
The White House has expressed "strong displeasure"about the rising tensions in Bahrain.
The cries against the king and his inner circle at amain Shiite mosque and at burials for those killed inThursday''s crushing attack reflect a sharp escalation of thepolitical uprising, which began with calls to weaken the Sunnimonarchy''s power and address claims of discrimination againstthe Shiite majority.
The mood, however, has turned toward defiance of theentire ruling system after the brutal crackdown on a protestencampment in Bahrain''s capital, Manama, which put the nationunder emergency-style footing with military forces in keyareas and checkpoints on main roads.
"The regime has broken something inside of me. ... Allof these people gathered today have had something broken inthem," said Ahmed Makki Abu Taki at the funeral for his23-year-old brother, Mahmoud, who was killed in the pre-dawnsweep through Pearl Square.
"We used to demand for the prime minister to stepdown, but now our demand is for the ruling family to get out."
At a Shiite mosque in the village of Diraz, ananti-government hotbed, imam Isa Qassim called the PearlSquare assault a "massacre" and thousands of worshipperschanted: "The regime must go." MORE (AP)