x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Police action necessary, say Bahraini minister

No option but to evacuate Pearl Square in the centre of Manama, says interior ministry spokesman, 'after having exhausted all chance of dialogue'

MANAMA // Police action was necessary to pull Bahrain back from the "brink of a sectarian abyss," the country's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al Khalifa, said this eveningy.

Three people were killed and 231 wounded after thousands of protesters took to Bahrain's streets. An interior ministry spokesman, General Tarek al Hassan said in a statement that police had had no option but to evacuate Pearl Square in the centre of Manama.

"The security forces evacuated Pearl Square ... after having exhausted all chance of dialogue," General Hassan said, as quoted by the official news agency BNA.

"Some left the place of their own accord, while others refused to submit to the law, which required an intervention to disperse them," he said.

Security forces deployed across Manama, with police blocking roads leading to Pearl Square and setting up checkpoints in other streets, causing heavy traffic congestion.

Foreign ministers of the Gulf states were to hold an emergency meeting later today in Manama, Bahrain's foreign ministry said. The foreign ministry said the Gulf Cooperation Council states are "expected to announce their support for the [Bahraini] government in security, defence and politically" at their meeting today.

Bahrain's defence forces will "take all strict and preventive measures to restore security and public order," a defence ministry spokesman said in a statement. The ministry also urged people to "refrain from gathering in vital areas."

US chiefs at the Pentagon and State Department called their counterparts in Bahrain, the longtime home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and an anchor of US defence strategy in the Middle East.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, called Sheik Khalid b, to register Washington's "deep concern" about overnight developments in which Army patrols and tanks locked down the capital of the kingdom after riot police fired tear gas.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates spoke by phone this morning with Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, deputy commander of Bahraini defence forces, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

Navy officials in the Pentagon and in 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain have said they are monitoring developments in Bahrain. Officials have not reported any effects on their operations from to the unrest.

The 5th Fleet operates at least one aircraft carrier in the Gulf region at all times, along with an "amphibious ready group" of ships with Marines aboard. Their presence is central to a longstanding U.S. commitment to ensure the free flow of oil through the Gulf, while keeping an eye on a hostile Iran and seeking to deter piracy in the region.

Formula One's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix next month may have to be cancelled because of the unrest, the sport's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone told Reuters today.

"We'll make a decision by Tuesday or Wednesday [next week]," he said. "If things stay as they are today, the answer is no," he added when asked whether he felt the March 13 race would go ahead. "If it's not quietened down by Wednesday, I think we will have to cancel probably."