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Feb. 17, 2011 at 8:00 AM
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Bahrain police crackdown leaves four dead

MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Mostly peaceful anti-government protests in Bahrain turned when security forces raided Pearl Square in Manama, killing at least four people, witnesses said.

Riot police shot rubber bullets and fired tear gas as they cleared out the square, and witnesses reported seeing armored trucks in central Manama, The Guardian said. Dozens of wounded protesters were taken to hospitals throughout the city.

The crackdown follows three days of protests calling for major reform within Bahrain's ruling minority.

"We were asleep and they started slicing through our tent," Nabeel Ebrahim said. "They started firing gas from the overpass and attacking us from all directions."

Ambulances were blocked from entering Pearl Square, considered the focal point for the protests, and in some cases attacked by security forces, witnesses told The Wall Street Journal.

Doctors at Salmanyah hospital marched through the facility, chanting anti-government slogans, participants said.

"We're marching because of the terrible reaction of the government. A lot of children were dying in the roundabout (at Pearl Square), suffocating because of the tear gas," said Hassan Mohammed, a doctor at Salmanyah hospital. "It's not acceptable."

Police moved through several villages near Manama, looking for protest organizers, The Guardian said.

The crackdown comes as international leaders called on King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa to listen to the concerns of the mainly Shiite demonstrators, who say they are discriminated against by Sunni Muslims. The police action came two days after al-Khalifa said in televised remarks he'd instructed police to let demonstrators claim Pearl Square as their own, and as thousands of demonstrators slept.

An article Thursday in Bahrain's state media quoted an official in the country's Interior Ministry saying the evacuations were conducted after "exhausting all opportunities for dialogue" with protesters, CNN reported.

"Public security forces carried out this morning the evacuation of the crowd and the protesters from Pearl Square after exhausting all opportunities for dialogue with them, some of them have responded and left quietly, while others refused to comply with the law, which called to intervene in order to disperse them," Bahrain News Agency reported the ministry as saying.

During the crackdown Thursday, an ABC reporter was attacked while on the phone describing the scene for the network, CNN said. While reporting, Miguel Marquez could be heard shouting on the audiotape, "Journalist! Journalist! No! No!" Noises and police yelling could be heard as well, CNN said.

After several minutes, Marquez said, "I'm going! I'm going!" repeatedly and called for co-workers. When he returned to the audio line to report what happened, Marquez said, "These people are not screwing around."

Bahrain is a U.S. ally and is the location of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet headquarters. In Washington, the State Department said Tuesday it was "very concerned" by the violence and said it welcomed the promise of an investigation.

The U.S. Embassy in Manama issued a statement on the crackdown Thursday, reminding U.S. citizens to avoid areas where the demonstrations are occurring because of the possibility of violence.

Amnesty International condemned the eviction of the protesters and called for an end to the crackdown.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa director, also called upon the Bahraini leaders to investigate the day's events.

"They must also carry out a full impartial investigation into the force used this morning against peaceful protesters, including families with children, and whether the use of deadly force was justified," Smart said in a statement. "If not, those who gave the orders and used excessive force must be brought to justice."

Libyan protesters killed by snipers

TRIPOLI, Libya, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- An unconfirmed number of people were killed and scores wounded as anti-government protesters declared a Day of Rage in Libya, officials said.

The Human Rights Solidarity based in Geneva, Switzerland, quoted witnesses in Libya saying as many as 13 protesters had been killed by rooftop snipers and scores injured in clashes with security forces on Thursday.

The Libya al-Youm Web site said four protesters were killed by live ammunition in demonstrations in al- Beyida, west of Benghazi.

The New York Times said one protester was killed, quoting the Human Rights Watch organization as its source.

A report issued by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said Libyan Internal Security Forces arrested at least 14 anti-government protesters prior to Thursday's demonstration. Authorities used teargas and batons to disperse protesters in Benghazi Wednesday evening and sources told the organization one protester was killed and 14 injured.

"Colonel Moammar Gadhafi should learn from his former neighbors that stability has to include respect for peaceful protest," Joe Stork deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch said.

On Wednesday in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, unconfirmed reports said two protesters were killed and scores injured, the Egyptian Web site Bikya Masr said.

The demonstrations were the first display of defiance directly challenging Gadhafi's four decade regime.

The government continued to organize demonstrations in support of the Libyan leader and informed the public calls for the regime's overthrow will not be tolerated, CNN said.

NEA calls teachers to picket Wis. Capitol

MADISON, Wis., Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Wisconsin's largest teachers union called on all 98,000 members to rally in the state capital Thursday, a move that prompted school districts to cancel classes.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan plans to call Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after Walker proposed stripping teachers of bargaining rights.

"This is not about protecting our pay and our benefits," Mary Bell, president of the National Education Association's state affiliate, said at a Wednesday evening news conference in front of the state Capitol, which houses the governor's office as well as the Legislature. "It is about protecting our right to collectively bargain."

The call for two days of rallies prompted some 20 school districts to cancel classes Thursday, a United Press International count indicated.

Madison canceled school Wednesday after about 1,100 union teachers -- nearly half of all teachers in the system -- called in sick late Tuesday. Many rallied in front of the Capitol instead.

Walker, a Republican elected in November after pledging to get public workers' compensation "into line," proposed a sweeping plan Friday to cut benefits for public employees and to take away most public-employee unions' ability to bargain.

The state Legislature, where Republicans won control of both chambers in November, expressed support for Walker's spending plan.

The state Assembly and Senate could vote as early as Thursday on a bill that would take away almost all union rights from public workers and make them pay more for their benefits, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

"This is the scariest thing I've ever seen," physics teacher Betsy Barnard told the Wisconsin State Journal. "This is going to change Wisconsin forever."

Barnard was one of more than 20,000 teachers rallying Wednesday. An estimated 10,000 rallied Tuesday.

Barnard and other teachers told the State Journal they were willing to make wage and benefit concessions to help fix the state budget, but said Walker's plan to dismantle public employees' 50-year-old collective-bargaining process went too far.

Parents and children joined the teachers. Some carried signs reading, "At our school we call this bullying" and "Will the National Guard teach my class?"

Walker said Friday the National Guard was poised to step in to handle state duties if need be.

Wisconsin faces a $137 million shortfall this year and a multibillion-dollar deficit next year.

Walker's budget proposal, to be delivered next week, would save $30 million this year and almost $300 million during the next two years, Walker said.

It would limit collective bargaining for most state and local government employees to the issue of wages, rather than a variety of issues including health coverage and vacations. It would also require most state and local workers to pay half their pension costs -- typically 5.8 percent of their pay -- and at least 12 percent of their healthcare premiums, up from about 6 percent.

The plan does not apply to state and local police and to firefighters.

All unions except for police and firefighters would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.

Duncan, who told teacher unions and school administrators Wednesday he was concerned about Walker's proposal, plans to call Walker Thursday, an education department spokesman told the Journal Sentinel.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told the Journal Sentinel the call was planned before Walker put forward his budget proposal.

U.S. President Barack Obama told WTMJ-TV, Milwaukee, public employees need to adjust based on new fiscal realities but should not be blamed for larger budget problems.

Kerry hopes for resolution of case

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. Sen. John Kerry ended his Pakistan visit expressing hope for resolution of the detention of a U.S. diplomat in the shooting deaths of two Pakistani men.

The Massachusetts Democrat, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was in Pakistan Tuesday and Wednesday to press for the release of Raymond Davis, a U.S. Consular officer, on diplomatic immunity grounds. Pakistani authorities insist the courts must decide the immunity issue.

Davis says the Jan. 27 shootings in Lahore were a case of self-defense, as he feared the two men riding a motorcycle were going to rob him. He faced a court hearing Thursday.

Kerry's arrival in Pakistan coincided with President Barack Obama's call to Pakistan in which he expressed concern about the deaths of the two men but also noted the principle of diplomatic immunity needs to be upheld.

"I am hopeful that the Lahore incident will be resolved in the coming days," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted Kerry as saying in Lahore.

Kerry said the U.S. Justice Department would conduct its own criminal investigation regardless of immunity.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Kerry "made clear that Pakistan has obligations under international law to release (Davis)."

Crowley said he was not aware of any poor treatment of Davis but "we do not believe that his incarceration is proper" and that under the "Vienna Convention, he should not have been incarcerated."

"It's certainly not a matter that should be resolved by courts in Pakistan," Crowley said.

He said the U.S. government would present a petition to the Lahore court Thursday asserting that Davis has diplomatic immunity.

Tour boat sinks in Vietnam, 12 drown

HANOI, Vietnam, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- A tour boat carrying several foreign visitors sank early Thursday in Ha Long Bay in northeast Vietnam, drowning 12 people, authorities said.

The bodies of all the victims, 11 of them foreigners and the 12th a Vietnamese guide, were later recovered, Vietnam News reported. It was not clear if the victims were still asleep when the boat went down.

The report said the boat "Truong Hai" sank off Ti Top Island after sailing from the Bai Chay port Wednesday.

The scenic bay with several islands located in Quang Nin province is Vietnam's top tourist attraction.

Those identified at a nearby hospital included two American females, a British male, two Russian females, a Japanese male, a French female, two Swedish females and a Swiss male, the news agency said.

Many of them were in their 20s.

Of those rescued during a seven-hour operation, nine were foreigners, the report said. They included two Danes, a German, two Italians, an American, a French national, a Vietnamese-Australian, and a Swiss.

Initial findings said there was a leak in the boat's engine room, VNN reported.

"We need to investigate the accident, identify the cause and punish those responsible," a provincial official said.

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