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Friday
Sep232011

Bahrain, Syria, Yemen (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Reclaiming Pearl Roundabout?

Bahraini military units moving towards Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square in Manama this morning:

See Also, Syria Video Special: Friday Protests Across the Country - Set 1 and Set 2

Turkey Feature: Erdoğan at UN --- A Blast at Israel, A Criticism of Assad, and a Warning to Cyprus

Thursday's Arab Spring Coverage, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) LiveBlog: Who's in Charge Here?


2055 GMT: Manama Press, which is connected to the regime, has published a very interesting article about today's events. It starts out by describing a sermon by a leading cleric:

On Friday Sheikh Isa Qassim during his Friday sermon told worshippers “There is a class of society under repression and there are obstacles at every turn, blocking their voice. The cleric told worshippers in a mosque in Duraz, an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital, Manama, that the vote on Saturday is meaningless. This is fake democracy,”

The article then describes plans for protests. Up until halfway through, it almost reads as if the paper is supporting the protesters.

Then we get the bait and switch. The official line is that very few protesters showed up, but the Central Mall and some streets were filled with rioters who had to be dispersed and arrested.

City Centre was the Centre of the attacks where rioters created chaos and fear amongst the mall’s visitors. Security forces, including the women’s police force dealt with rioters as some of them were arrested for illegal actions. Shops in City Center were closed while the police force calmed the situation.

Two innocent female bystanders were injured by the rioters and rushed for treatment.

When the rioters entered City Centre they were chanting Down Down Hamad which led to visitors Chanting “People want Khalifa bin Salman”.

This assessment of the days developments differs starkly with reports that EA and other media groups have covered.

2044 GMT: A source in Bahrain reports that even at this hour there are many checkpoints in and around the villages that surround Sitra and Sanabis, including checkpoints at:

1.UmAlhasam entrance near the highway, Athari entrance, town flyover, Sitra flyover coming from Mina Salman, Sehla entrance under the flyover, North sehla entrance, budaieh entrance, the Expedition road entrance, and the Manama West entrance

All entrances of Sanabis are closed no one can gets in

2027 GMT: Interesting timing. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency has released an intent of sale. They plan on selling, among other things, 44 multi-purpose armored vehicles to Bahrain. Here's an obvious question: can anyone guaruntee that these vehicles will not be used to suppress dissent?

2021 GMT: Protesters beware - The President of the Information Affairs Authority in Bahrain posts this message on his Twitter account:

Bahrain tv will air footage of city center thugs at 10. If u recognize any please contact the police.. Thanks..

2010 GMT: The state-run Bahrain News Agency posts this message:

His Royal Highness Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa today paid a surprise inspection visit to Bahrain City Centre.

The visit is in line with HRH the Premier’s keenness to reach out to citizens and ensure them security and stability.

It is also in harmony with the Government’s drive to provide all facilities and streamline procedures to boost the trading sector, hence the steadily- growing convergence of visitors and shoppers, from Bahrain and abroad on mega shopping centres.

HRH the Premier assured all people on Bahrain’s security and stability.

1959 GMT: Intense video, reportedly taken in Sanabis, Bahrain, today. A man is surrounded by police officers who beat him and kick him in the ribs. Tear gas explodes near him, and when he reacts he is hit again. Women protest the beating, but by the end of the video they are disperse with tear gas:

1935 GMT: A source in Bahrain points us to this video, reportedly showing police tear gassing protesters in Sanabis, today:

1855 GMT: An activist passes along this video, reportedly taken today in Sitra, Bahrain. It shows a group of police beating and trying to arrest at least 1 man. The quality of the video is not too great, based on the videographer's range from the target, but it is worth noting:

There are two major, repeating themes that this video points out. The first is, perhaps, obvious, the reckless brutality of the police against men, and women, who pose little or no threat to the police or society. The second problem that this video points out, these police are completely incompetent. They are incapable of making these arrests without brutality, and their failure to properly and safely arrest this man leads them to shoot tear gas, at point blank range, at the people they are trying to arrest. This is how people are killed, because poorly trained police are allowed to operate with impunity, without any sort of apparent leadership or supervision. In fact, it appears, based on the amount of evidence like this, that the regime is supportive of the reckless brutality displayed by the police.

1831 GMT: According to Al Jazeera, citing the AFP, the NTC is claiming that its forces have moved into the Qaddafi stronghold from the east of Sirte without meeting any resistance:

"They are two kilometres (1.2 miles) ahead of the gate and holding positions there. Technically we can say that we entered Sirte from the east," Zlitni said, adding that the fighters "did not face any resistance" when they crossed the gate.

Fighter Muatiz Saad, deployed near the town of Sultana, 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of Sirte, also told AFP that a large number of his comrades had entered Sirte from the eastern gate.

"I was at the frontline and I came to know that our troops have entered Sirte from the eastern gate," he told AFP at one of their bases near the town of Harawa, around 40 kilometres east of Sirte.

1825 GMT: An activist claims that this video shows a man wounded by bird-shot in Bahrain today. The Bahraini news agencies have denied the use of bird-shot against protesters. There is no way for us to verify the claims:

1821 GMT: Activists have been speculating that this truck, in Bab Sbaa, Homs, was destroyed by a tank:

1813 GMT: The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is reporting that there were 9 people killed today in Homs:

"Nine civilians were killed in the Homs region: six in three districts of the city itself, a girl in Qusayr, a young man in Talbisa and another in the village of Zaafaraniya," the Britain-based group said.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 protesters marched in the eastern oil hub of Deir az-Zour calling for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

State television said that "six police officers were injured in Deir az-Zour by armed terrorist groups."

It's worth noting that Deir Ez Zor has been in an almost total communication breakdown for a long time, many weeks, since the military has occupied the territory. It is also worth noting that activists have often reported that the soldiers killed by "terrorist groups" are often deserting soldiers killed by the Syrian military. Without international media in the area, however, it is impossible to verify these claims, or the ones made by the regime.

1759 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria,

"Number of martyrs today in Syria reached to 5, 3 in Homs, 1 in Zabadany and 1 in Damascus."

1751 GMT: Al Jazeera has spoken to NTC officials who claim that, based on information they have received from a captured General close to the former regime, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi is moving around the southern desert:

"General Belgasem al-Abaaj, who we captured on Monday, said that Gaddafi had contacted him by phone about 10 days ago, and that he was moving secretly between (the oasis town of) Sabha and Ghat" on the Algerian border, said Mohammed Barka Wardugu.

Abaaj had said that Gaddafi "is helped by Nigerian and Chadian mercenaries who know the desert routes," added Wardugu, spokesperson for the Desert Shield Brigade attached to the National Transitional Council (NTC).

The general was Gaddafi's intelligence chief in the southern Khufra region, where he was wanted by the NTC for many crimes, Wardugu said.

"I think Gaddafi is hiding in the Sahara region between Libya and Algeria," he said, adding that dozens of dozens of mercenaries and soldiers loyal to Gaddafi had been arrested in the south.

"We have arrested 18 Gaddafi soldiers, 300 Chadian mercenaries and today we caught 60 people of different nationalities (Sudanese, Somalis and Eritreans) in the vicinity of Zouila" southeast of Sabha, Wardugu said.

He said the region was calm following the capture of Sabha on Wednesday.

Regarding the existence of concentrated uranium or yellow cake in the Sabha area, Wardugu said its existence had been known "for a long time."

"For many years, we knew that there were biological or radioactive materials stored in a military centre in the northeast of Sabha airport.

"We had talked to the Gaddafi regime about the danger to civilians. But they never did anything for the people of the south."

1743 GMT: James Miller returns from a break.

The official Twitter account for the Information Affairs Authority of Bahrain posts this message:

MOI reports 5 policemen injured in clashes today, with one of them sustaining 2nd degree burns from a homemade incendiary device.

Interestingly enough, it complies with a report that we received earlier from an activist, suggesting that the police injured themselves and started fires with their own flash bangs and tear gas canisters.

The IAA also posts this message:

MOI states that security forces have not used shotguns, rubber bullets or birdshot in any clashes today as falsely reported

1601 GMT: This video purports to show a heavy military presence preventing worshipers from attending prayers at a mosque in Kisweh, Syria:

1552 GMT: Amnesty International is reporting that 18-year-old Zainab al-Hosni is the first female to die in Syrian prison since the unrest started in March:

According to the London-based human rights group, the 18-year-old's body had been decapitated, the arms cut off and the skin removed.

"If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death in detention we have seen so far," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Ms Hosni was abducted by men suspected of belonging to the security forces in July, apparently to put pressure on her activist brother Mohammad Deeb al-Hosni to turn himself in, according to Amnesty.

The report also notes that 103 people have reportedly died in Syrian prison, but we are not sure that this number included the report of the defected Hama Attorney General. We do not believe it does.

1545 GMT: The US Government is less than pleased with Yemen's President's return, and White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the Obama Administration would like to see Saleh step down:

"In light of the current instability in Yemen, we urge President Saleh to initiate a full transfer of power and arrange for presidential elections to be held before the end of the year within the framework of the GCC initiative," Carney said.

1534 GMT: A Bahrain regime defender has given us this video, which claims to show police "helping a girl who fell" inside the central mall. Instead, they appear to kick her at the beginning of the video clip, and them remove her, probably to arrest her. It is also worth noting the amount of people chanting anti-regime slogans inside the mall:

1526 GMT: The Bahrain State News has posted this message:

The Interior Ministry has called on citizens today to avoid gathering at road accidents sites to enable the security and concerned sides to take the necessary measures.

A number of road accidents have taken place in various parts of the kingdom since the morning today and necessary procedures have been taken by concerned authorities.

But by "traffic accidents" what we believe they meant to say is "large anti-regime protests at which police have fired tear gas", as reported by EA and many major international media organizations.

1519 GMT: This picture was uploaded by an activist, and it reportedly shows crowds of protesters trying to get into Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square in Bahrain. Security is preventing many from entering the square, so scenes like this are popping up in many of the surrouding streets:

1515 GMT: This video reportedly shows heavy security on the streets outside the Omari Mosque in Daraa. It is worth noting that casualties are reported in the area around Daraa, where a crackdown appears to be occurring:

1508 GMT: A well-known activist in Bahrain has also said that there have been injuries of protesters who were beaten by police officers in Sanabis.

1453 GMT: A massive crowd in Sana'a, Yemen, chants that they are "confident in Allah's victory". The tag on the video says that these are anti-Saleh protesters, but there is no way to tell based on that chant:

1448 GMT: Protesters in Ibb, Yemen, chant "We swear that we will not forget the martyrs."

1445 GMT: An activist uploads this picture on Twitter, showing fires being put out in Sanabis, Bahrain. It matches our earlier reports:

1441 GMT: This video reportedly shows police attacking women in Sanabis, Bahrain with what appears to be flash grenades. Unidentified bangs, either perhaps tear gas, flash bangs, or rubber bullets can be heard in the background. It's worth watching all the way through to the end:

1429 GMT: An EA source in Bahrain provides this picture of police deploying in the City Center Mall:

Meanwhile, this picture appears to show arrests inside the mall:

And the government run Bahrain News Agency reports that male and female "vandals" have been arrested inside the City Center.

1423 GMT: A source describes this picture:

"Protesters in BiladAlqadim reaching to village main road 1Km from Martyr Sq"

And this video is reportedly taken moments ago in a market that is only 500 meters from Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square, Sanabis, Bahrain:

1420 GMT: Another video claims to show 8 Syrian military officers defecting, and making a statement to other officers to leave their posts and join the protesters.

1414 GMT: This video claims to show a man, shot in the streets of Talbiseh, Homs. He is on the opposite side of the street as the videographer, who is afraid to cross the street in order to offer aid. Towards the end of the video, gunfire can be heard, possibly in a nearby cross street. We cannot confirm the details of the video:

1407 GMT: This video reportedly shows security arresting a "child," a teenager in the Saqba district of Damascus:

1359 GMT: A lawyer associated with the opposition in Bahrain is reporting that seven women have been arrested in the Central Mall in Sanabis, Bahrain, where we posted pictures earlier of a large protest.

1357 GMT: Earlier, we reported that there were large protests and heavy security in area around Dael in Daraa Province. Now the LCCS is confirming that at least one person has been killed in the area.

Daraa: Dael: martyrdom of Ahmed Abd AlKaream Oudat and many wounded by security forces gun fire today

1352 GMT: A source has sent us this video, showing fires in stores in Sanabis as a result of the tear gas and flash grenades that have been used against protesters.

1345 GMT: Many activists, from many different villages around Sanabis, are trying to reach Martyr Square:

1342 GMT: Activists in Sanabis are gathering in the Central City Mall, near Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square:

1340 GMT: An EA activist asks, "I wonder if the Bahrain News Agency is claiming that the man was killed by sickle cell."

1336 GMT: The Bahrain News Agency has this report:

Pedestrian died after he was hit by car on the clock roundabout. Security & concerned bodies are at the scene & dealing with the situation

1331 GMT: A source in Bahrain points us to this picture, which reportedly shows protesters removing the injured from the area around Martyr Square in Sanabis, Bahrain.

Also, this video reportedly shows the youth activists running towards the square:

1329 GMT: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that 1 person has been killed in Homs, Syria. Al Jazeera is reporting that 5 people have been killed across the country, though they don't give their source.

1323 GMT: The scale, reach, energy, and bravery of the protesters in Syria could easily be lost among the reports of death and violence. To prevent that, Scott Lucas has begin to collect videos of today's protests in a separate entry, and he has already collected an impressive array of footage:

See Also, Syria Video Special: Friday Protests Across the Country

1317 GMT: Al Jazeera finds another important video leaked by members of the Syria military to activists.

The man, reported to be Louay Amer from Al Houla, a town near Homs, is heard whimpering in pain and obvious terror as the group of soldiers take turns beating the soles of his feet with a piece on cane.

“Take my picture with him! Take my picture with him!” says one of the soldiers. The men are recognisable by the red armband on their uniform which says "Special Forces" in Arabic.

Al Ittihad newspaper reported Amer had been teaching Arabic in Saudi Arabia and it is believed he was home in Houla for a holiday with family. Activists say it is likely Amer was arrested by security forces because of his long beard and his wearing traditional Muslim robes.

The Assad regime has repeatedly blamed Islamists for driving the popular uprising in Syria. As the video zooms in on his terrified face, the soldiers tell Amer to repeat the chant of loyalty to President Assad: “With soul and blood, I sacrifice to you Bashar.”

In a second video, also just released, the body of a man said to be Amer is seen being examined and shows severe bruising, consistent with having been tortured before death. A voice on the video said the body had been returned on August 13.

1305 GMT: Multiple accounts on Twitter, and some sources close to EA, have started to post videos and pictures of a heavy police presence in and around Sanabis, Bahrain:

#Bahrain-now: regime mercenaries chasing protesters in #Sanab... on Twitpic

1255 GMT: This photo was reportedly taken only a few moments ago in Daih, Bahrain, where protests have reportedly started:

This picture reportedly shows protesters in Sanabis, Bahrain, presumably on their way to Martyr Square, the former location of the Pearl Monument:

1249 GMT: The Local Coordinating Committees of Syria have this report:

Daraa; Tafas: security forces and Shabiha chase and beat the demonstrators and passers, where they have deployed heavily before the prayer and started checking IDs and inspect the passers and worshipers

About 50 minutes ago, the LCCS posted this video of a large protest in Irbeen (or Arbeen), Damascus, but in the last few minutes they have reported that four bus loads of security have arrived on the scene, and they are checking the IDs of anyone on the streets.

1241 GMT: This video reportedly shows police surrounding a man who they have beaten, while women run towards the scene yelling "Allahu Akbar:

1229 GMT: A source in Bahrain signals another shift in the strategy for the protests today:

BREAKING The fourth start point has been announced by 14FEB groups is to get out of the cars from the flyover next to Martyr Square (former location of the Pearl Roundabout)

Those protests were supposed to have started within the last 15 or 20 minutes, but we just received word that there is a massive traffic jam on the route. It's hard to know if the jam is caused by protesters already filling the square, or government forces stopping all traffic on route.

Activists in Sanabis have reportedly begun to gather medical supplies in order to treat any wounded. There is evidence that the police have already deployed in Sanabis in order to stop the protesters from entering the square.

1227 GMT: Activist Gregory Johnsen, whose writing often makes it to EA, has this assessment of the return of Yemen's President:

Salih's return is like gasoline on a raging fire. His presence in Sanaa is likely to galvanize people on both sides, further trenching warring interests that have already been using heavy munitions against one another.

1220 GMT: The sign that the videographer is holding says that this video was taken today in Halfaya, Hama:

1203 GMT: James Miller takes the liveblog. Thanks to Scott Lucas for working so hard this morning.

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh has returned to Yemen (in case you missed that news) and is calling for a ceasefire. According to Reuters:

"The solution is not in the mouths of rifles and guns, it is in dialogue and stopping bloodshed," the defence ministry cited Saleh as saying on Friday.

1145 GMT: Footage from a LiveStream shows thousands --- an activist claims 50,000 --- rallying in Rastan in Homs Province today:

A child leads a protest in Anadan in Aleppo Province, “I want freedom”:

A protest march in Atman in Daraa Province in southern Syria:

1135 GMT: A few of the police who have reportedly moved into the Bahraini village of Al Daih:

Protesters in the village had suspended a model of the monument at Pearl Roundabout, declaring they would be returning:

1130 GMT: Activists in Bahrain are saying they will march towards Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square, the symbolic centre of the protests from February, at 3 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).

Earlier an EA source sent this report:

Minimum of three police jeeps parked on the entrance of each village. The three-lane highway that is next to Martyrs Square had became one lane, with police blocking the other two.

Seeing the extensive use of force near the Square gave me the feeling that the government and the army which is living in fear.

1110 GMT: To preserve foreign exchange reserves, Syria’s Minance of Finance has announced the suspension of imports of new cars and other luxury items into the country until further notice.

Syria imports about 70,000 cars each year. Raw materials, food, and other basic materials are exempt from the ban.

Joshua Landis has further details and analysis.

1040 GMT: Claimed footage of protest today in Al Qurayyah in northeastern Syria:

Amuda in the northeast:

Two clips of demonstrations in sections of the Syrian capital Damascus:

0920 GMT: Friday prayers are underway in Bahrain. In Duraz, people are listening to Sheikh Isa Qassim speech, the leading Shi'a cleric in the country.

A bird's-eye view of road blocked by the Bahraini military near Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square in Manama:

0840 GMT: Witnesses reported that, hearing news of Yemeni President Saleh's return, protesters camped in Sanaa's Change Square tried to break through army lines and were fired upon by troops, injuring three people.

0830 GMT: A policeman at the entrance to Sanabis in Bahrain this morning:

0810 GMT: In anticipation of today's protests, the Bahraini regime has stationed more security forces around the country's largest hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, in anticipation of today's protests. Entrances are being manned by military personnel, supported by armoured vehicles.

The Gulf Daily News, quoting a doctor, puts out the message, "More security personnel meant more confidence for those working at the hospital."

Activists claim that Bahraini forces occupied the hospital at the height of protests and the regime's crackdown in February and March, threatening medical personnel and seizing patients. The regime says protesters took over the complex and intimidated the staff.

Dozens of medical personnel were subsequently arrested and are awaiting trial.

0755 GMT: Sources in Bahrain report helicopters flying over villages this morning. They have seen about 18 armoured vehicles in the capital Manama: eight in the middle of Pearl Roundabout/Martyrs Square, five near the Roundabout entrance next to City Center Mall, and five under the bridge near the Roundabout.

Activists have released a map for today's rallies:

0740 GMT: Amnesty International has called on Oman to halt the prosecution of two journalists sentenced to five months in prison for “insulting” the country’s justice minister.

Al-Haj wrote an article alleging fraud and corruption inside the Ministry of Justice. The employee of the Ministry who leaked the information to the paper, Haroon Saeed, was also sentenced to five months in prison.

The three men have appealed their convictions and await a hearing on 15 October.

In the United Arab Emirates, the trial of five pro-democracy activists, including blogger Ahmed Mansoor and economist Nasser bin Ghaith, resumes on Monday.

The five are charged with publicly insulting the country’s rulers. Mansoor and Ghaith face additional charges of undermining state security in co-operation with other powers.

The men were detained after a petition signed by more than 100 nationals, delivered to the Government, called for the Federal National Council to be elected by all UAE nationals.

0730 GMT: The sign outside Sana'a Airport this morning as President Saleh returned to Yemen from Saudi Arabia, "Airport is Closed for Special Arrival".

Journalist Tom Finn reports, "Pro-Saleh supporters in Tahrir [Square] singing & dancing, firing their guns in the air, shouting "thank God our leader has returned!" He also brings this message from Yemeni opposition figure Faizah Suliman: "If we're still alive we'll march this afternoon."

0710 GMT: Egyptian blogger Mohamed Abdelfattah and Yemeni photojournalist Khaled al-Hammad are this year's recipients of the International Press Freedom Awards from the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

Abdelfattah was given the award, for journalists who demonstrate extraordinary courage and free expression, for his work in exposing the story of Khaled Said, a young man beaten and killed by police officers in Alexandria in June 2010. He reported on the public protest across Egypt in response to Said’s death and discredited the authorities’ claim that Said was a drug dealer.

Abdelfattah has been beaten by Egyptian security officers and detained, including in the first days of the January uprising against the Mubarak regime.

Al-Hammadi received the award for his work as a correspondent in Yemen. The CJEF said, “He has spent 16 years trying to explain his country to the outside world, and because he has been so public and outspoken he has faced ongoing threats, attacks and harassment by the government administration and its security and army agencies. He has been arrested, kidnapped and had his equipment destroyed."

The awards will be presented ain Toronto on 24 November.

0700 GMT: More on the return this morning of President Saleh to Yemen after his 16-week stay in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment....

There are loud bursts of gunfire and explosions throughout the capital Sana'a, although it is unclear whether most of this is celebration of Saleh's return or conflict between regime forces and tribal and military opponents.

One person was killed overnight when mortars hit the protest camp in Change Square in central Sana'a.

State TV, after it played songs praising the President and broadcast video footage of his past appearances, showed Saleh emerging from a plane at Sana'a airport, covering his head and holding a walking stick.

Saleh's opponents have promised demonstrations after Friday prayers.

0530 GMT: We will be maintaining our watch on Syria for protests and clashes, and looking at Yemen, where there are reports of the return of President Saleh from his 16-week recuperation in Saudi Arabia from injuries sustained in a bombing.

However, it is Bahrain which provides the difference on this Friday. Beyond the gaze of most international media, there has been a renewal of protests in some towns and villages, and the opposition Al Wefaq party has been able to mobilise large rallies pressing the case for political reform and legal justice. 

Now, a day before 14 by-elections to replace Al Wefaq MPs who resigned soon after the February protests began against the regime, some opposition groups have called for a re-claiming today of Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic focus of the challenge to the monarchy and Government. The Roundabout, now renamed Martyrs Square by the opposition, and its iconic monument hosted the demonstrators' camp for a month until it was overrun by Bahraini security forces in March, days after the intervention of military forces from the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia.

In Syria, a rally last night in the Mazzeh district of Damascus, with protesters chanting, "The people want the toppling of the regime":

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