Middle East

Deadly Clashes Between Protesters, Police Rattle Bahrain, Focal Point of U.S. Navy

Feb. 17: Bahrani riot policemen are seen after attacking peaceful demonstrators camping at the Pearl roundabout, in Manama, Bahrain.

Feb. 17: Bahrani riot policemen are seen after attacking peaceful demonstrators camping at the Pearl roundabout, in Manama, Bahrain.  (AP)

Five people were killed and more than 200 injured when riot police attacked apparently peaceful demonstrators in the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain early Thursday.

“I was there in the evening. The place was jovial, it was almost like a party atmosphere," Bahraini blogger Mahmood Al-Yousif said. "There were chants, there were people handing out food. There were people helping each other. There were people serving coffee.”

Then, reportedly around 3 a.m., the riot police came in to break things up. The Interior Ministry claims it gave people warning to leave an illegal protest. But sources in Bahrain say medical personnel treating the wounded were brutally attacked and people were missing after the melee. Family members were searching the main hospital for them in the morning. It’s not clear if they were detained, or exactly what happened.

Al-Yousif said people are in shock, and that there has been a run on banks and supermarkets.

When asked by Fox News what the Bahraini people want from the United States during these difficult times, Al-Yousif said: “Nobody wants anything from the United States. But with its obligations, as a major power in the world, it should at least comment about the huge human rights abuses that happened over the last 72 hours.”

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.

“We call on restraint from the government, to keep its commitment to hold accountable those who have utilized excessive force against peaceful demonstrators," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "And we urge a return to a process that will result in real, meaningful changes for the people there.”

Bahrain has a restive Shiite majority ruled by a Sunni monarchy.

Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Khalifa said action was necessary in order to bring Bahrain back from “the brink of a sectarian abyss.”

And Bahrain TV showed footage of weapons allegedly confiscated from the protestors’ camp overnight—including swords, knives and pistols -- proof, authorities say, that the demonstrators were not peaceful.

The opposition is being fueled by the blood of those who died this week in the protests, men who are being called martyrs. Organizers say they will keep on going, even though, with a heavy army presence, the capital turned into a ghost town throughout much of Thursday.

“These protests are very significant given Bahrain’s geopolitical importance, given Bahrain’s position as a center of the U.S. Navy, and given its importance as a state that is lodged between Iran and Saudi Arabia," author and Middle East specialist Afshin Molavi tells Fox News. "If the rulers of Bahrain were to fall, I think what we would probably witness would be a Bahrain that would probably be less amenable to aligning itself strategically to U.S. interests. I think we would see a Bahrain that would be more challenging to the U.S. and that would be less amenable to hosting the U.S Navy’s Fifth Fleet.”

Al-Yousif says the protestors are demanding a re-written constitution and they want proper political and human rights.

In Libya and in Yemen, protests continued Thursday. There were casualties and calls for rulers to step down.

“These protests that we are witnessing, from Bahrain to Libya to Egypt to Iran, they are all stitched together with one common thread, and that thread is dignity," Molavi told Fox News. "And what we are witnessing all across the region are people who are tired of their dignity being trampled upon by ruling elites, trampled upon by massive economic mismanagement, trampled upon by political repression and secret police states.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s main student union has called for further protests on Sunday. “I think Iran’s opposition movement will take longer than what we saw in Egypt to achieve results, mostly because the authorities in Iran know a thing or two about repressing opposition movements," Molavi said.

Given the heavy police presence in Iran, it is hard for those who do dare hit the streets in Iran to gather in any significant numbers. But their determination apparently remains strong.

Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox