News Desk : Riot police firing tear gas and rubber bullets stormed a landmark square occupied by anti-government protesters Thursday, driving out demonstrators and destroying a makeshift encampment that had become the hub for demands to bring sweeping political changes to the kingdom.
The main opposition group Al Wefaq said at least two people were killed in the pre-dawn assault on Pearl Square, which was littered with flattened tents, trampled banners and broken glass.
There was no official word on deaths or injuries. After police regained control of the plaza, they chased protesters through side streets and put a ring of vehicles around the area with blue lights flashing in the darkened city just as the dawn call for prayers rang out.
The blow by authorities marked a dramatic shift in tactics. It appeared Bahrain’s leaders had sought to rein in security forces after clashes Monday that left at least two people dead and brought sharp criticism from Western allies, including the US which operates its main naval base in the Gulf fromBahrain.
Police held back Wednesday as tens of thousands of protesters crowded into the seaside square, dominated by a 300-foot monument to Bahrain’s history as a pearl diving center.
After the crackdown early thursday, protesters who were camped in the square described police swarming in through a cloud of eye-stinging tear gas. “They attacked our tents, beating us with batons,” said Jafar Jafar, 17. “The police were lined up at the bridge overhead. They were shooting tear gas from the bridge.”