Syrian President Assad and his wife Asma at an aid centre in Damascus, collection donations fo residents of Homs
See also Syria Feature: How the Uprising Has Damaged the Scientific Community br>
Syria Wired: The Latest from Social Media and EA's Readers br>
Tuesday's Syria, Bahrain (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Cease-fire? 55 Dead on Monday
2056 GMT: A major, shocking headline, and a complete turnaround in rhetoric for the Bahraini regime:
The government of Bahrain cannot guarantee the safety of Formula One teams and spectators at this Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix as violence escalates in the Gulf kingdom, according to the British former police officer who is working on security at the track.
According to John Yates, the British law enforcement official who has been hired by the regime to revamp the Bahraini police, there was a possibility that security at the Formula 1 race could be compromised...
And the Bahraini police could resort to using live ammunition if necessary:
"The police will have all the options you would expect. If the opposition started firing live ammunition, the police would respond with live," he said, adding: "But I don't think that's likely."
This is a complete reversal for Yates, who once said that Bahrain was safer than London.
Yates insisted that the government continues to reform, and though security forces have sometimes overstepped their boundaries, those incidents were limited and being investigated. He denied that police were preemptively attacking villages.
The Ministry of Interior also released a statement today saying that rioters and vandals were arrested after having committed crimes.
However, as we saw today, police responded to the presence of protesters by challenging the crowds with riot police, and only showed restraint when they saw the media. Even with media present, the police still attacked. Other videos, taken over many months, show police randomly patrolling villages, looking for protesters to challenge, sparking reprisal attacks against the police. There does appear to be a pattern of police provocation, and the journalists in Bahrain have seen that with their own eyes.
Of course, there have also been incidents where protesters have used force against police. After 14 months of uprisings, however, and many months of John Yates, the situation has hardly gotten better.
In fact, it seems to be getting worse.
1918 GMT: A student protest in the Midan section of Damascus:
1848 GMT: Another image of Bahraini riot police confronting protesters today:
1829 GMT: Another clip of protesters, near international monitors in the Damascus suburb of Irbeen, scattering amidst sounds of gunfire:
Erdogan said at a press conference that he was relaying information from "Syrians who are still fleeing violence": "Although tanks are withdrawing from streets and neighborhoods, they are being pulled into rural areas."
The Prime Minister, asserting that people were still being killed, expressed pessimism that Damascus would implement United Nations envoy Kofi Annan's plan and said Assad was acting against his pledges.
1743 GMT: Bahrain activist Zainab AlKhawaja is back on the streets. We're not sure exactly what happened, but it appears as though she was only briefly detained.
According to EA sources, the February 14 movement has launched 15 simultaneous protests in villages across the country today, and some have been disrupted by police, including one in Sitra, where Zainab posts this picture:
According to multiple sources, the crowd was attacked from two directions with teargas.
1732 GMT: An Early Day Motion (EDM) has been tabled in the British Parliament, calling for the Bahrain Formula One to be called off. The initial sponsors of the motion stem from across the political spectrum. Several British politicians have already voiced their individual oppostion to the race, including Labour MPs Richard Burden and Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secreatary, so an expanded list of signatories can be expected when the Parliament website updates with the results of todays business.
The text of the EDM reads:
That this House is astonished that the Bahrain Formula 1 race is going ahead despite huge concerns over abuse of human rights expressed by Amnesty International and others; notes that a trial is continuing of 52 medical professionals who tried to help victims of the suppression of protests; believes that the Formula 1 race will be used by the Bahrain government as an endorsement of its policies of suppression of dissent; and accordingly calls for its cancellation.
1726 GMT: EA's John Horne reports:
FIDH today joined the chorus of critique being levelled at the Bahrain government by international NGOs. FIDH recently spent five days in Bahrain to "monitor the implementation of recommendations made by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry". Its preliminary report states:
While certain efforts have been made by Bahraini authorities to address many of the BICI recommendations, the mission concluded that government continues to deny a majority of Bahraini’s fundamental rights on a daily basis and uses governmental structures to attack or control the population rather than protect it, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and fear among the population. The mission observed a country in the state of continuing protest and unrest fuelled by arbitrary detention, disproportionate use of force by the authorities, and significant persecution.
1552 GMT: Meanwhile, there were large protests reported in many areas of Syria today. NPR's Ahmed al Omran finds a video from Idlib, and the second video is from Soura in Daraa province. Both are relatively small towns, but scenes like this were typical across the countryside in many areas of Syria today:
1540 GMT: On the ground in Syria it has been another bloody day. The LCCS, an opposition network, has reported shelling of the Jobar. Soltania, Qosair, and Bayada districts of Homs. "Sami," an activist in Homs whom EA has spoken to in the past, says that the attacks have been savage:
6:08pm here in #Homs, crazy shelling continues since morning, # of shells absolutely ridiculous. Black clouds of smoke cover Homs— Samsom homs (@Samsomhoms) April 18, 2012
This video reportedly shows the Khalidiya district, in the center of the city, being shelled, and gunfire echoing through the streets below (See a map of Homs):
1534 GMT: With the situation in Bahrain calming (for now, wait a few hours), we turn to Syria, but will keep an eye on the Bahraini streets.
US Senator John McCain has stated that he believes it is time for the US to lead the way in Syria, arming the rebel fighters and conducting air strikes against Bashar al Assad's tanks and ground forces:
1521 GMT: Journalist Kevin Eason reports that while protests may be over, and there are only periodic sounds of police chasing protesters through the streets, there may still be news made in Manama, Bahrain:
No casualties, we think. Reports that one woman had Mace sprayed into her face and one of the political leaders has been detained— Kevin Eason (@easonF1) April 18, 2012
We believe, though we have yet to confirm this, that based on the images of her being surrounded by police, Zainab AlKhawaja, daughter of Abdulhadi AlKhawaja who is on hunger strike in prison, is the "political leader" who has been detained.
1513 GMT: A health update on Bahraini political prisoner, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, who has been on hunger strike for 70 days, Tweeted by AlKhawaja's lawyer:
1505 GMT: EA Correspondent John Horne reports:
The Project on Middle-East Democracy (POMED) reports on a keynote speech given at George Washington University last night by Cherif Bassiouni, the Chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry:
Bassiouni briefly discussed the ongoing unrest in Bahrain. Bassiouni maintained that while rights groups and certain media outlets may tell a different story, the Kingdom of Bahrain has made significant steps in establishing “something about the rule of law.” He offered evidence of more than one thousand students being reinstated in schools that were expelled, and the majority those fired or dismissed from employment had been reinstated. He said that these were positive signs that showed the process was overall good, but said the failure was that political, social, and economic reforms were not following.
Bassiouni expanded his thoughts on Bahrain in the Q&A, suggesting that a "scoring system could be developed ... to grade the progress made by the Bahrain government" in implementing the recommendations of his BICI report. POMED continues:
[Bassiouni] said there was a “genuine weakness” in the failure to investigate and prosecute torture and killings that “we documented and submitted to the government.” He highlighted the lack of institutional capacity of the Bahraini government. He said the public prosecutor’s office, which is made up a total of 54 people, had no ability to investigate or conduct forensics independently of the Ministry of Interior, which they were supposed to be investigating. He said that “on its face, nothing much has happened” but that is was “not because of a lack of political will.”
He summarized that on the “symptomatic relief categories” he would give Bahrain a good grade, but said that a larger problem in Bahrain is that not much is happening in terms of political, socioeconomic, or electoral reforms. He said Bahrain is a “de facto ghettoized society” with “totally segregated housing and school systems,” and said that not much “can be done without encroaching on the interests of the royal family.” Bassiouni concluded that the “causal remedies” for discontent are “far from even being started.”
1457 GMT: All reports tell the same tale - chaos in Manama, Bahrain:
Running battles through the narrow streets now— Kevin Eason (@easonF1) April 18, 2012
Also, a note on what just occurred - according to the multiple sources reporting from Manama, the police showed an unusual amount of restraint, allowing the protest to continue for about an hour before dispersing it. However, the crowd was continuously growing during that time. It seems that activist Nabeel Rajab led the crowd away at one point, but after it had grown even further he returned to the original place of protest.
According to all sources, including the western journalists who were present, the crowd did not provoke the police.
1452 GMT: Turning back to Manama, Bahrain, western journalists report that a group of female police officers rushed to the front of the pack and have surrounded Zainab AlKhawaja, whose father, Abdulhadi, a prominent activist, is on hunger strike while in prison:
Female police have surrounded three female protesters inc the daughter of hunger striker al Khawaja. twitter.com/ianparkesf1/st…— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
1446 GMT: Meanwhile, elsewhere in Bahrain and extremely large protest rally has been organized by AlWefaq, the leading opposition political party. The protests in Bahrain are growing ahead of Sunday's Formula 1 Race:
1443 GMT: The police in Manama, Bahrain, have now used stun grenades against the protesters:
We are off. Explosions— Kevin Eason (@easonF1) April 18, 2012
Stun grenades I think going off. Police chasing protestors— Kevin Eason (@easonF1) April 18, 2012
Police have now used stun grenades to disperse protesters. Here's a discarded cannister twitter.com/ianparkesf1/st…— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
1440 GMT: The police have not dispersed today's protest in Bahrain, possibly because after they gave their warnings they noticed that several members of the international media were present:
Nabeel has come back for a second go at protesting. Men have again joined the women. twitter.com/ianparkesf1/st…— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Crowd are chanting 'peaceful, peaceful' letting police know they do not want trouble— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Protesting being told their demo is unauthorised and to move on. Also told police are Pakistani and do not even understand the chants— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Apparently police are showing the kind of patience not witnessed before by locals. Us F1 media having an impact— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Meanwhile, The Guardian interviews Paul Weaver, who is also on the scene - this audio is about 30 minutes old:
1425 GMT: EA's John Horne reports:
Palestinian political prisoner Ameer Makhoul has written a letter to fellow human rights activist Abdulhadi AlKhawaja. Witness Bahrain have translated the original text where Makhoul conveys a solidarity of struggle "from Haifa, from the captive nation of Palestine" against "the system of colonialism and its puppet regimes". He describes al-Khawaja as "struggling in the face of tyranny and for freedom, freedom of the individual, the people and the nation, whether in Bahrain or in any/every corner of the Arab world." Makhoul goes on to quote Mahmoud Abdul-Rahim, a Palestinian poet:
I will carry my soul in my hand
And throw it in the valleys of death
It is either a life that makes a friend happy
Or a death that makes an enemy angry
Makhoul closes the letter:
As you carry your soul in your open hunger strike, behind this is the essence of your position — that you love life; only he who loves life has the courage and the will to sacrifice for freedom and human dignity and the dignity of his people and the country’s freedom.
1409 GMT: Still tense in Manama:
Riot police at back of ranks wearing tear gas masks now— Kevin Eason (@easonF1) April 18, 2012
Three-minute warning been and gone. Police now just standing and watching. Been told they would have broken it up by now, but formedia— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
1405 GMT: This is a video, taken moments ago, showing Nabeel Rajab chanting "Free Free AlKhawaja" while marching in today's protest:
1403 GMT: The crowd in Manama, Bahrain, has been given three minutes to leave the street. According to journalist Kevin Eason, Zainab AlKhawaja, daughter of political prisoner and hunger striker Abdulhadi AlKhawaja, is also at the front of the crowd, trying to speak to the police:
Try this pic of the stand off instead. Police guy with megaphone giving them three mins before his men move in twitter.com/ianparkesf1/st…— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
1358 GMT: Tense moments in Manama, Bahrain, as police have entered a standoff with a crowd of protesters led by Nabeel Rajab (see last update):
We now have a stand off between police and protesters twitter.com/ianparkesf1/st…— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
1352 GMT: Foreign journalists who are inside Bahrain have seen many different aspects of the crisis - from unprovoked police brutality, to violent protesters, to peaceful protests, and to police over-reaction. Just moments ago, journalist Ian Parkes reports that a crowd that he was in was attacked by police without provocation:
Riot police presence in shopping area where prominent local human rights leader is due to attend— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Just had my picture taken by police media cameraman. Looks like I've been recorded for posterity now!— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Riot police have moved in using their riot shields. Totrallly unprovoked.— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
Nabeel Rajab standing defiantly in front of riot police before they moved in twitter.com/ianparkesf1/st…— Ian Parkes (@ianparkesf1) April 18, 2012
1342 GMT: According to the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, 17 have already been killed today by Assad forces: "8 martyrs in Homs, 3 martyrs in Idlib, 2 martyrs in Daraa, 2 martyrs in Hama, a martyr in Aleppo, and a martyr in Damascus Suburbs."
Meanwhile, the CFDPC, an activist organization with many contacts in Damascus and the surrounding areas, say that many have been injured in Irbeen as security forces opened fire (see last update):
Regime forces opened fire and used also nail bombs on demonstrators in the Arbeen area of Damascus wounding about 20 people, 4 of them are in critical condition.
1333 GMT: What month is it? The scenes in Irbeen, an important suburb in the shadow of Damascus, as the UN monitors arrived remind us a lot of when Arab League monitors became the focus of attention for opposition protests. The Guardian thinks so too, and has shared a video of protesters crowding around the monitors:
And just like before, activists report that protesters have been shot at right in front of the monitors:
1315 GMT: The big news in the Syrian blogosphere is the alleged hacking of the email account of the head of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun. A prominent Syrian blogger, Nuff Silence, says that the hack, if true, is a mixed blessing:
Assuming the leaks are true and authentic, there is sensitive information in the possession of the SNC that could cause bodily harm to people inside Syria. Let’s not forget that many of the SNC’s members are also members of the coordination committees inside. These people deserve to be protected. If the hackers were aligned with the regime’s Mukhabarat (security apparatus) – and they are likely to be given what we know about the so called “Syrian Electronic Army” and its close connections with security services – then I wouldn’t expect them to reveal the identities of individuals dealing with the SNC and opposition inside. They are likely to keep them to themselves, as we know these individuals are going to be tracked down and arrested. That they’d then be tortured and probably even killed is a possibility made abundantly clear to us during the last thirteen months.
I hold Ghalioun personally responsible for the safety of these people.
On the other hand, I, and most of those who oppose the Assad dictatorial regime, am happy with the leak. Actually, we demand that leaks be formalized and institutionalized in the SNC. In other words, we demand greater transparency. What the imbeciles like Sate’ the vegan do not understand is that we will hold our representatives responsible. Unlike their position of idolization and groveling towards Bashar Al Assad, we have no idols and we do not intend to erect any statues for mortal figures. And this is why our revolution is unbeatable. The regime and its supporters have been trying desperately to reduce our uprising to mere individuals and personalities. They stupidly believe that if exaggerated the importance of Ghalioun and ‘Arour and then managed to undermine their credibility, by doing so they’d have destroyed the revolt.
James Miller takes over from Scott Lucas.
1145 GMT: Claimed footage of Syrian tanks in the Kafar Batna section of Damascus:
1125 GMT: A demonstration today in Ibtaa in Daraa Province in Syria:
1115 GMT: Human Rights Watch has called on Moroccan authorities to free rapper Mouad Belghouat, “al-Haqed” (the sullen one), who has been detained for three weeks on charges that he insulted the police in his songs and a music video, denoucing corruption in the security forces, in which a donkey's head was put on the photo of a policeman.
On Monday, a Casablanca court postponed the start of Belghouat’s trial for the second time and denied motion for pretrial release.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused elements of the Syrian opposition of trying to provoke violence that could bring foreign intervention: "There are plenty of those who would like to see [United Nations Kofi] Annan's plan fail in hopes of then demanding other options --- primarily meaning the use of [outside] force."
Lavrov chided, "I will remind you that the leading opposition forces, including the Syrian National Council, have still not officially confirmed their agreement with Annan's plan."
0920 GMT: In Bahrain, families of detainees and those slain in the uprising "greet" Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as he departs the funeral of a prominent businessman, with the chants, "The people want the fall of the regime" and "Down down Hamad":
0915 GMT: Forty-eight members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange have sent a letter to Bahrain's King Hamad calling for freedom for human rights advocates, bloggers, and activists, including hunger striker Abdulhadi Alkhawaja: "You cannot continue to silence dissent with teargas and detention without alienating the international community further and risking Bahrain's reputation. Releasing these detainees would send a strong message that Bahrain will uphold its international obligations and follow through with its promises for reform."
The China Foreign Ministry claimed, that Moallem "said Syria would continue to...respect and implement Annan's 'six-point proposal'", including implementation of a ceasefire, withdrawal of troops, and cooperation with UN observers.
Moallem said 250 international observers, proposed by the UN, was a "reasonable and logical" number to monitor a cease-fire and added that the UN could use Syrian aircraft if needed.
Is it safe for Formula 1 to return to Bahrain this weekend? That's the question the organisation was pondering for days last week before taking the plunge and going ahead.
But it's the wrong question....The right question is: Should F1 be returning to Bahrain this weekend?...
The anger of the Shia community is, at its root, economic. They believe they are discriminated against in jobs and housing. Their villages are tatty and unkempt.
Many young Shia are unemployed. This in a country where more than half the population are expatriates.
But the demands are now as much political as economic.
"All we want is equality and freedom to choose our own government," a young woman tells me, her face framed by a black headscarf.
"But if you call for an the end to royal rule, for a really democratic government, they will try to kill you."
That claim seems rather extreme, until you look at the case of Abdul Hadi al-Khawaja.
Mr Khawaja is currently in prison, 70 days into a hunger strike and close to death. He was arrested and put on trial last year for his part in the pro-democracy demonstrations that swept the country.
A demonstration last night in Sitra for political prisoners and against this weekend's Formula 1 Grand Prix:
0720 GMT: Syrian opposition members and international officials have said that, two weeks after promising aid, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States have yet to start distributing money from a multimillion-dollar fund for Syria’s insurgents.
Yesterday’s [protest] in Al Dair was peaceful, almost joyful.
But there was an edge. Rubber bullets, remnants from previous clashes, lay scattered about. A 13-year-old girl, Reem, whose father was killed in police custody last year --- allegedly beaten to death --- came up to introduce herself. She was with her uncle, a politician in Bahrain’s main opposition party, Al Wefaq, which has called for seven days of protest to capitalise on the presence of F1.
Our guide for the day, Dr Ala’a Shehabi, an activist who met with F1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone in London earlier this year in an effort to have the race cancelled, told us about some of the other faces in the crowd; a nurse, Rula Alsaffar, who was allegedly beaten by police last spring after helping to treat injured protesters; a doctor, Huda Alawi, whose husband is a prominent local lawyer representing hundreds of protesters in jail.
With the grand prix coming up this weekend, she told us, many activists had been rounded up in the past few days. One of her colleagues, a 19-year-old student, told us he had slept in three different houses over the past three nights after the police had come looking for him....
One man, who was wearing a red Ferrari polo shirt, approached us. “I love F1,” he said. “But not over our blood. They are forcing it on us.”
I had heard much the same thing from my taxi driver after landing in Bahrain yesterday. On our way into town, which, as we were assured it would be by Bahrain’s authorities, was ghostlike, he gave me his thoughts on Sunday’s race. “I have two emotions,” he said. “One is that I am proud to have such a big event in Bahrain. But the other part of me feels shame. You will be welcome here because you are guests in my country but you will be racing over blood this weekend.”
0703 GMT: As detained Bahraini activist Abdulhadi Alkhawaja enters Day 70 of his hunger strike, The Independent of London reports from a source that "the Bahraini royal family is divided over whether to free" him.
The source claimed, "They were going to release him three weeks ago but this was vetoed by hardliners in the family."
However, the authorities have yet to detain anyone in the crowd of men who ransacked a Jawad supermarket last week, let alone the police who supported them (see video in separate feature).
Jawad stores have been raided on almost 60 occasions since February 2011.
Earlier this year Adnan, a member of Islamic Jihad, was on a 66-day hunger strike (see separate feature) to protest Israel's system of administrative detainees, in which prisoners can be held indefinitely without charge. He ended the fast after an agreement that he would soon be released.
Adnan was greeted by hundreds of supporters as he reached his home in a village next to Jenin in the West Bank.
Israel held 307 Palestinians in administrative detention at the end of December 2011, up from 219 in January 2011.
"There is certainly a strange behaviour we are noticing among school students particularly boys," said Dr Swar, a trained psychotherapist....
"They play a game where a group of students act as police and beat another student, who behaves like a protester," revealed Dr Swar. "In one such case, they kept hitting the boy till he started to bleed."
0635 GMT: Another day, another 74 deaths across Syria --- including 40 in Idlib Province and 22 in Homs Province --- another international appeal to the Assad regime....
The Arab League's Ministerial Committee repeated its endorsement of the six-point peace plan of United Nations envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday, with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi calling for a ceasefire to be implemented "completely and immediately".
At the same time, al-Arabi admitted that "Annan's mission is a political one which would take some time". Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani echoed:
We fully support Mr Annan and his six-point plan, but sadly, the killing still goes on. We are fearful that the regime is playing for time. We expressed this to Mr Annan.