Bahraini security forces block the roads leading to Pearl Roundabout in Manama on Thursday as protesters retreated to their neighbourhoods and villages near the capital a day after heavily-armed police dispersed demonstrators who were camping at the roundabout. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Bahrain on Thursday refuted reports about its use of "systematic excessive force" against protesters, and described the several opposition leaders arrested yesterday as "instigators looking to topple the regime".

Speaking to Gulf News, Nabeel Al Hamar, media adviser to Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa, said that "had there an excessive use [of force] in yesterday's operation, we would have [had] a higher number of causalities".

The "simplest" answer to Amnesty International's report is "that the number of casualties was very limited, and on the contrary their number from the official side is higher because they were facing armed groups," Al Hamar said.

"All that was used in clearing and liberating the Pearl Roundabout was tear gas canisters to disperse [people]. Neither live ammunition nor any kind of heavy weapons were used," Al Hamar said.

Earlier yesterday, Amnesty International released a report saying it had "evidence of the Bahraini security forces' systematic use of excessive force in cracking down against protesters" in the past few weeks.

Al Hamar also refuted reports of a military takeover of hospitals in Manama and described them as "exaggerated".

The Salmaniya Medical Centre, the main hospital in Manama, was "occupied for one month by an outlawed group of people. They controlled entry and established checkpoints. Now it has been liberated… There is no security presence in it."

Manned checkpoints

An AFP report said shotgun-toting, white-helmeted police manned checkpoints around the medical centre yesterday, questioning people but not preventing them from entering the hospital. Bahraini state TV said the security forces had "cleared" the hospital of "saboteurs".

Bahraini authorities, according to Al Hamar, will provide Amnesty International with photo and video evidence to show how Bahraini citizens and expatriates were subjected to beating and threats by those "who instigated the violence".

An emergency law was declared in Bahrain on Tuesday for three months.

By yesterday morning, Bahrain arrested at least six opposition leaders, and Al Hamar described the arrested as "instigators looking to topple the regime and to establish an Islamic republic". Meanwhile, the door is still open to hold a dialogue between the government and the opposition, Al Hamar said.

"The exit" strategy from the current tense situation was "to end violence, return to normal life and enter in a national dialogue," Al Hamar said in response to a question on ways to resolve the situation.

"Of course, the door for the dialogue will always be open," he added, accusing the opposition of refusing all offers.

Press reports quoted analysts as saying that the entry of Gulf forces into Bahrain, in the past few days, has escalated the issue of local unrest to a regional crisis.

However, Al Hamar rejected such an interpretation, and said that the entrance of troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council member states was not "for invasion, but rather to protect the strategic and vital installations" in Bahrain.

"All [of] yesterday's [Wednesday] operations and actions from clearing and liberating the hospital, and commercial district, financial area and the Pearl Roundabout, were conducted by the interior ministry's forces," Al Hamar said.

Precautionary measure

Gulf forces entered Bahrain, also, as a precautionary measure to protect the security of the Kingdom against any "foreign interference", he added.

Bahrain, which has majority Shiite population, has accused Iran of interfering in its affairs. Iranian officials have criticised the Gulf troops' intervention in Bahrain.

While Bahrain recalled its ambassador to Tehran to protest Iran's "blatant interference" in its affairs, Iran pulled out its envoy "in protest of the killing of the people of Bahrain by its government".