Bahrain army demolishes Pearl Square monument

Bahrain has torn down the 90-metre monument at the heart of a square purged of Shia protesters this week, erasing a symbol of an uprising inflaming tensions across the region.

Symbol of protest movement destroyed

Debris of The Pearl Square statue is seen after it was torn down in Manama March 18, 2011. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

Bahrain on Friday tore down the 90-metre monument at the heart of a square purged of Shia protesters this week, erasing a symbol of an uprising that's inflaming sectarian tensions across the region.

The monument — six white curved beams topped with a huge concrete pearl — was built in Pearl Square as a tribute to the Sunni-ruled kingdom's history as a pearl-diving centre. It became the backdrop to the Shia majority's uprising after protesters set up a month-long camp at Pearl Square in the capital, Manama.

Tents are seen engulfed with fire as Gulf Co-operation Council forces move into Pearl Square to evacuate anti-government protesters on Wednesday. ((Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters) )

Security forces overran the camp on Wednesday, setting off clashes that killed at least five people, including two police officers. At least 12 people have been killed in the month-long revolt.  

Bahrain's foreign minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told reporters in Manama that the army brought down the monument because "it was a bad memory."  

"We are not waging war, we are restoring law and order," Khalid said at a press conference in Manama.

Shia anger rose sharply around the Mideast on Friday as large crowds in Iran and Iraq cursed Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and its Saudi backers over the violent crackdown on protesters demanding more rights. 

Amateur video footage of security forces shooting and beating protesters has spread across the internet and fuelled fury in predominantly Shiite Iraq and in Iran, where a senior cleric on Friday urged Bahraini protesters to keep going until victory or death.   

Shias account for 70 per cent of the tiny island's half-million people, but they are widely excluded from high-level posts and positions in the police and military of the country, which is home to the U.S. navy's 5th Fleet.        

Bahrain's rulers invited armies from other Sunni-ruled Gulf countries this week to help root out dissent as the month of protests spiralled into widespread calls for an end to the Sunni monarchy. In declaring emergency rule, the king gave the military wide powers to battle the uprising. 

There are no apparent links between Iran and Bahrain's Shia opposition, but the U.S. and Sunni leaders in the Persian Gulf have expressed concern that Iran could use the unrest in Bahrain to expand its influence in the region. Iran has recalled its ambassador from Bahrain to protest the crackdown.  

The United States bases the 5th Fleet in Bahrain partly to counter Iran's military reach around the region.