A Jubilant Crowd Suddenly Faces Shooting in Bahrain

Trucks carrying smashed tents, trash and other refuse rolled out of the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain midday Thursday, remnants of a demonstration that turned deadly overnight.

A Bahraini flag flutters as anti-government protesters gather at Pearl Square in Manama for a demonstration calling for a regime change on February 16, 2011.
Joseph Eid | AFP | Getty Images
A Bahraini flag flutters as anti-government protesters gather at Pearl Square in Manama for a demonstration calling for a regime change on February 16, 2011.

Business ground to a virtual halt Thursday as state security shut down major highways and more than 60 military tanks took control of Bahrain's Pearl Roundabout area.

This came just hours after hundreds of police in full riot gear stormed a mass demonstration in the country's capital.

At least four people are confirmed dead and some estimates put wounded between 150 and 300.

The incident comes just one day after Bahrain's foreign minister called the country a peaceful place, saying that protests could take place in Bahrain like any other free and democratic country.

Witnesses described a scene of carnage overnight as security forces stormed the square firing at protestors amid clouds of tear gas.

Staff at the Sanabis hospital told CNBC that the injured are overflowing into the street and that emergency crews were told by security that they were not allowed to treat the injured.

At least one nurse and one doctor have reportedly been injured helping the wounded.

Thousands of activists descended on the area Tuesday after planned protests marking the anniversary of the signing of the country's national charter turned violent, leaving at least two people dead.

Activists camped out, chanting, waving flags, singing songs and voicing what they say are legitimate grievances: lack of equality, lack of jobs, religious discrimination and housing problems.

Bahrain's demography is, at the best of times, uncomfortable with a minority Sunni muslim government, king and prime minister ruling a majority Shia population.

"All my life, I have only known one prime minister, one king," Hussain, a 25-year-old Bahraini Sunni who joined the mostly Shia crowds on Wednesday, said. "It's 2011. It's time for change."

The crowd's mood had turned jubilant by Wednesday evening with activists citing the success of demonstrations in Egyptand Tunisia as their inspiration.

Security officials had drawn back almost completely to the Seef district of Bahrain, just across the highway, and demonstrations took on an almost carnival atmosphere as men, women and children laid out on the grass on blankets and in tents.

Many activists had drifted back home by midnight.

The shooting began sometime between 3 am and 4 am on Thursday.

"They are shooting their own people now," Nabel Rajeb, head of Bahrain's Human Rights Organization, told CNBC. "They are using mercenaries to shoot to attack Bahrainis in their own homes."

Opposition activists say many of those working in the state security services are non-Bahrainis, most coming from places like Pakistan and Yemen.

The government has released no official statement thus far, but state news agencies have urged Bahrainis to stay home for safety.