17.02.2011 - Troops and tanks have locked down the Bahraini capital of Manama on Thursday after riot police swinging clubs and firing tear gas smashed into demonstrators in a pre-dawn assault, killing at least four people.
Hours after the attack on Manama's main Pearl Roundabout, the military announced a ban on gatherings, saying on state TV that it had "key parts" of the capital under its control.
"Some of them are severely injured with gunshots. Patients include doctors and emergency personnel who were overrun by the police while trying to attend to the wounded."
.. booms could be heard from different parts of the city, suggesting that "tear-gas is being used to disperse the protesters in several neighbourhoods".
After several days of holding back, the island nation's Sunni rulers unleashed a heavy crackdown, trying to stamp out the first anti-government upheaval to reach the Arab states of the Gulf since the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
In the surprise assault, police tore down protesters' tents, beating men and women inside and blasting some with shotgun sprays of bird-shot.
'They made us angrier'
The pre-dawn raid was a sign of how deeply the Sunni monarchy fears the repercussions of a prolonged wave of protests, led by members of the country's Shia majority but also joined by growing numbers of discontented Sunnis.
Tiny Bahrain is a pillar of US's military framework in the region. It hosts the US Navy's 5th Fleet, which Washington sees as a critical counterbalance to Iran.
Bahrain's rulers and their Arab allies depict any sign of unrest among their Shia populations as a move by neighbouring Shia-majority Iran to expand its clout in the region. The army would take every measure necessary to preserve security, the interior ministry said.
But the assault may only further enrage protesters, who before the attack had called for large rallies on Friday.
Tents at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama were cleared of protesters by riot police [Reuters]
In the wake of the bloodshed, angry demonstrators chanted "the regime must go," and burned pictures of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa outside the emergency ward at Salmaniya Medical Complex, the main hospital in Manama.
"We are even angrier now. They think they can clamp down on us, but they have made us angrier," Makki Abu Taki, whose son was killed in the assault, shouted in the hospital morgue