A police crackdown in Bahrain has swept away demonstrators gathered to demand large-scale political reforms.
Dozens of tanks have taken up position around the site of the popular protest in the centre of the capital, Manama. The streets around Pearl Square were empty of protesters on Thursday, a day after thousands had assembled to demand more of a say in the country, where a Sunni monarchy rules over a mostly Shi-ite population.
As dawn broke on Thursday, the state of Pearl Square was testament to the panic during the night.
The three-day-old makeshift camp has been trampled underfoot. Bahrain’s Health Minister says three people died in a police raid on protesters in the square, with a further 231 people injured.
But it is feared the death toll could be much higher. Eye-witnesses say security forces moved in without warning on protesters, many of whom were asleep. Men, women and children ran to escape the tear gas and rubber bullets that were being fired from all directions.
Many of the injured were ferried to hospital in private cars.
The opposition say around many people are still missing.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry says the police raid was necessary to pull the country back from the “brink of a sectarian abyss.”
The main Shi’ite opposition bloc says it will quit parliament. It holds 18 of the 40 seats in the assembly. One of the bloc’s leaders described last nights as “real terrorism.”
Bahrain is small, but its political stability is of geo-strategic importance.
It is the home of the US Fifth Fleet and is considered by many as a regional buffer against Iran.
The army says it will ensure security and has warned people not to gather in the central areas of the capital.