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Protests, clashes sweep West Asia

world Updated: Feb 16, 2011 01:42 IST
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Egypt’s uprising has sent powerful shockwaves across the Middle East , with three deaths reported in street clashes in Iran and Bahrain and violent demonstrations in Yemen, as further protests and strikes erupted across Egypt.

In Bahrain, thousands of protesters poured into a main square in the capital on Tuesday that sharply escalated pressure on authorities as the Arab push for change gripped the Gulf for the first time.

Security forces have battled demonstrators over two days, leading to the deaths of two protesters. In a clear sign of concern over the widening crisis, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa made a rare national TV address, offering condolences for the deaths, pledging an investigation into the killings, and promising to push ahead with reforms, which include loosening state controls on the media and Internet.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians defied a government ban and volleys of teargas to join a rally in Azadi Square in Tehran. The protests were the biggest since those that erupted after the disputed 2009 presidential elections.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, leader of the Iranian Green movement, was placed under house arrest, as was Mehdi Karroubi, another prominent opposition figure. Protest rallies were also held in Isfahan and Shiraz.

Iran’s Islamic regime has hailed the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, though neither involved organised activity by Islamist opposition movements. Both protests were led by young people seeking political freedoms and an end to autocracy — just like many Iranian demonstrators.

In the Yemeni capital Sana’a, protesters marched for a fourth consecutive day, demanding the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh, who has ruled the Arab world’s poorest country since 1978, pledged recently not to run again for the presidency in 2013, but opposition forces are demanding that he emulate Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and step down at once. They faced attacks by government supporters wielding broken bottles, daggers and rocks.

Police were unable to control the crowds in Taiz, where thousands of Yemeni protesters had held an all-night rally.