At least four people have been killed, including a two-year-old girl, and 100 injured after security forces in Bahrain stormed an anti-government protest camp in the capital Manama.
Hundreds of police and military used rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to disperse demonstrators who had been camped out in Pearl Square since Tuesday campaigning for political reform.
After protestors dispersed from the square, about 50 tanks were deployed to patrol the city’s streets in a show of force by the authorities.
Clashes earlier in the week left two dead and dozens injured. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office has advised against travelling around the island due to severe restrictions on the highways.
The unrest comes amid a wave of protests sweeping North Africa and the Gulf, with the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt forced to resign and tensions also mounting in Libya, Yemen and Iran.
Demonstrators had gathered in Pearl Square in the hope of emulating the protest in Cairo that led to the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The security crackdown came after thousands of Shia protesters, hoping the emulate the protests in Cairo that led to the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, took to Bahrain’s streets this week demanding a greater say in the running of a nation where a Sunni Muslim family rules over a majority Shia population.
The religious divide has led to sporadic unrest since the 1990s, and has been considered as the state most vulnerable to popular unrest in a Gulf Arab region.
Although Bahrain is sandwiched between two of OPEC’s heavyweights, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it has limited oil resources and depends heavily on its role as a regional financial hub and playground for Saudis, who can drive over a causeway to enjoy Bahrain’s Western-style bars, hotels and beaches.
The kingdom receives around two million international tourism arrivals per year. The state has actively encouraged tourism development and contributes to large-scale tourism projects.
Resorts planned in Bahrain include the Al Areen Resort, Dannat Hawar, Durrat Al Bahrain, Amwaj Islands, Lulu Island, Riffa Views and Bahrain Bay. Plans include a floating island that is being built with an investment of US$70 million.
Bahrain will also stage the curtain-raiser to the Formula One season, scheduled to take place next month. The organisers have issued a statement to assure that safety “is a priority at all times in the kingdom” in the wake of threats that the race will be disrupted by political protesters seeking a convenient global stage from which to air their grievances.
The organiser of GP2 Asia have postponed this week’s race, which was scheduled to take place at Bahrain International Circuit.