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Bahrain authorities destroy Pearl Roundabout
Bahrain’s authorities have demolished the Pearl Roundabout monument which had become the symbolic heart of the country’s protest movement as forces continued a crackdown.
By Ben Farmer
18 March 2011 • 5:11pm
The monument was flattened two days after police used armoured vehicles and tear gas to sweep away a month-old Shia protest camp which had gathered around the monument.
State media said the monument, acknowledging Gulf unity and the kingdom’s pearl fishing history, was removed in a “facelift” to boost traffic flow.
Bahrain's most prominent Shia cleric criticised Britain and America for doing nothing to stop the violent crackdown by the Sunni monarchy against anti-government protests.
Sheikh Issa Qassem told a congregation of around 1,500 worshippers that protesters should remain peaceful, but that they would "bend to no one but God."
He gave the defiant Friday sermon before the funerals of two Shia men who died in clashes with the security forces earlier this week as the crackdown continued.
Troops and police have rounded up opposition leaders, imposed a curfew and taken control of the main hospital since calling on neighbouring kingdoms including Saudi Arabia for troops to suppress a month-long protest movement.
While the central city of Manama remained calm, the Shia suburbs were still obstructed by makeshift barricades and there seemed little sign of the protest movement fizzling out.
Sheikh Issa said: "We are urging and expecting Britain and America to do something and speak out." He said: "We are like steel or iron. All these blows will only increase our resolve.
"We believe that the violent excesses by the government have created a dangerous wound between the people and the government." During his sermon worshippers chanted "we will never give up", but he silenced any who called for an end to the island's monarchy.
Protesters "do not believe in violence that authorities are trying to push them to," he said.
The gathering then swelled as thousands travelled to nearby Sitra for the funeral of Ahmed Farhan, despite a ban on public gatherings and the authorities' initial refusal to release his body.
Mr Farhan was killed when shot in the head during clashes with police on Tuesday, when King Hamad declared martial law.
As mourners followed his flag-draped coffin they defied requests not to use antimonarchy slogans and shouted death to the ruling houses of both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They demanded that "occupiers", including 1,000 Saudi troops, leave.
Mourners also criticised the West for failing to act as helicopters buzzed overhead.
The island kingdom harbours the US Navy's fifth fleet and is home to up to 7,000 British expatriates, though hundreds have left this week.
Hadi Khala, a banker, said: "The international community, they have to put a lot of pressure on the government. Just saying we a little concerned doesn't do anything." Abdul Jalil Khalil, a senior figure in the main Shia opposition party, said the government had arrested at least another three activists that night as well as seven the previous night.
He claimed the Salmaniya medical centre, the kingdom's main hospital, remained under virtual siege after being seized by troops, but some staff had now been allowed to leave.
He said: "They don't want anyone to cover the atrocities that are happening, so they are restricting access." State television reported security forces had raided the hospital to "cleanse" it of "saboteurs".
Rulers of the Gulf's Arab states are terrified that gains by Bahrain's Shia majority may hand Iran a stepping stone into the area and believe Tehran is instigating the unrest.
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