MANAMA, Bahrain, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Mostly peaceful protests in Bahrain turned violent when security forces raided Pearl Square in Manama, killing at least three people, witnesses said.
Those deaths, and the deaths of 15 people in anti-government protest-related violence in Libya, have put Arab capitals on alert for further clashes, The Guardian reported Thursday. Officials said they anticipated further protests Friday in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, Cairo and the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.
In Manama Thursday, 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 5th 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."