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Bahrain crackdown widens; dissent comes from roofs

Bahrain crackdown widens; dissent comes from roofs

March 17th, 2011 in News

SITRA, Bahrain (AP) - The nighttime cries of dissent went out from the rooftops shortly after the text messages came through. For nearly 15 minutes, just as the messages exhorted, they called out to the sky: "God is Great!" as soldiers and police took hold of the streets below.

In the capital, Manama, and in Shiite villages like Sitra, the hub of Bahrain's oil industry, Bahrain's crackdown on the monthlong uprising expanded, drawing the full fury of the Sunni monarchy and its Saudi-led allies, who see the Shiite demands for a say in running the country as a threat to the 200-year-old rule.

Bahrain's royal family is gambling that it can survive the sectarian faultlines that splinter the kingdom and the region, with the help of a 1,500-strong force led by the Saudis to bolster a government that the Gulf's Sunni leaders - and the U.S. - see as a bulwark against Shiite Iran's expanding military ambitions.

As night fell, residents of Sitra and other Shiite villages outside the capital Manama braced for new violence, stocking up on provisions. Young men armed with sticks, stones and kitchen knives geared up to confront Bahrain's army.

"We are not afraid, but we are cautious because we know they came here to kill us," said Mohammed Said, a 30-year-old from Sitra, pushing a supermarket cart packed with frozen chicken, bottled water, chickpeas and bread.

As the curfew went into effect, people shouted "God Is Great" from across Manama's rooftops. Opposition leaders sent texts earlier, asking people to shout twice every night "to tell the army your tanks cannot silence us." The cries mirrored a protest used last year by Iran's opposition, who would cry out "God is Great!" from rooftops at night at the height of that regime's crackdown.

The U.S. has made Bahrain home to the Navy's 5th Fleet, counting on the Sunni rulers who endured Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and waves of unrest among the Shiite majority, long complaining of persecution and economic inequality.

But the ruling system - which just two weeks ago appealed for negotiations with majority Shiites - now appears to be trying to crush the opposition, imposing a three-month emergency rule that gives the military wide powers to battle the pro-democracy uprising inspired by the revolts across the Arab world.

"We are afraid, because they are determined to make war," said another Sitra resident, Muslim Abdel Hussein. "But this is not a military problem, it's political. We are citizens. We want rights, that's all."