Bahrain, the smallest Middle East nation, is the latest country in the region to be engulfed in anti-government demonstrations, inspired by the recent uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Overnight, it was reported at least four people have been killed and as many as 300 people wounded in the most recent protest in Manama.

In a pre-dawn surprise attack, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a temporary camp in Manama’s Pearl Square. Police tore down protesters’ tents, beating men and women inside.

Clashes this week have left at least six people dead — fuelled by complaints from the majority of the Shiite population of discrimination by the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family for years. Bahraini demonstrators want constitutional democracy, more jobs and housing, the release of political prisoners and the removal of the Sunni monarchy — the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the king’s uncle, who has been in office for 40 years.

After the attack, the Shiite opposition bloc reportedly said it was planning to quit parliament, while protesters gathered outside Salmaniya hospital after being ousted from the Pearl roundabout. At the hospital where hundreds of victims are being treated, demonstrators spent the day chanting anti-regime slogans — “Death to Al-Khalifa”, referring to the royal family — and maintaining they will take to the streets again to retaliate, reportedly as soon as today.

A doctor, arriving at the hospital to treat the wounded has become the focal point of the uprising. Crowds gathered around him, listening to him shout “people of Bahrain, you will win your rights and your dignity. What they have done to you will be avenged.”

Similar violence is being mirrored in Libya, where in what is described as a “Day of Rage” anti-government protesters clashed with police across the country yesterday. In a country where public dissent is rare, protesters defied a crackdown and demanded the leader of 40 years, Moammar Gadhafi, step down in protests largely organised by social media networks, Twitter and Facebook.

There are mixed reports in the number of fatalities, but Al Jazeera says more than a dozen demonstrators have been killed in clashes with pro-government groups. According to the Guardian, snipers have reportedly killed more protesters in Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi, where six more dead were reported by local media.

State media reported there were pro-Gaddafi protests too across the country, with people chanting: “We sacrifice our blood and souls for you, our leader!” and “We are a generation built by Muammar and anyone who opposes it will be destroyed!”.

In the capital of Tripoli, government supporters staged counter-demonstrations, waving flags and chanting in support of the leader, where protests in at least three other cities continue. CBC news is reporting Gadhafi has met with tribal leaders and has offered to double salaries and release over 100 Islamic militants in an attempt to defy public animosity.

But Al Jazeera reports an Egypt-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use oil revenues to smooth over most social problems, which Libyans say are unemployment, inequality and limits on political freedoms.

Meanwhile in Yemen, two protesters were shot by police yesterday in Aden as unrest in the capital, Sanna, continued for the sixth day in a row. The protesters, spurred on by the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, are seeking to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, reportedly yelling “it’s time to leave, Ali”.

According to Al Jazeera, a group of clerics have called for the formation of a national unity government in order to save the country from bloodshed. The figures are demanding a transitional unity government that would see the opposition represented in key ministries — the move would reportedly place the country in the same situation as Egypt and Tunisia.

More protests are expected today — a “Friday of Fury” — said Hashem Ahelbara, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Sanaa: “Police are trying to form lines to separate protesters and pro-government supporters — but they’re also attempting to disperse crowds with live ammunition, a sign of the very tense situation in the capital ahead of calls for tomorrow’s ‘Friday of Fury’.”

Ahelbara speculates the situation could become dire, with reports the president’s tone has become increasingly harsh: “His entourage is telling media that the situation here is very different to Egypt and Tunisia — and if this country degenerates into violence, it could end up in a very, very difficult situation.

“People here are armed across the country. Tribes have caches of weapons — and the situation here could become much, much worse.”

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has told the country to wait for 2013 elections, but protesters have rejected this, determined to reach the same outcome as in Egypt and Tunisia.

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey