Source: EUOBSERVER, 19/02/2011
BRUSSELS - The European Union has called for restraint and dialogue after Bahrain's absolutist monarchy launched a military crackdown on protesters and following deadly clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and authorities in Yemen and Libya.
Troops crushed a rally in the Bahraini capital on Thursday (17 February), firing live ammunition and tear gas and killing five, according to reports. Some 200 have been injured and dozens arrested.
The events prompted a statement from the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
"The high representative strongly deplores the loss of life and violence and calls for calm and restraint in this situation,' her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said. She called on the leaders of the island-archipelago nation of 1.3 million people "to fully respect and protect fundamental rights."
Using the same formula the EU has deployed since anti-government rallies began in Tunisia two months ago, she called for dialogue between protesters and the authorities. "The peaceful expression of people's concerns should be met through dialogue," Ms Kocijancic went on.
Similar events also took place on Thursday in Yemen, where four people were killed and 40 were hurt after armed government supporters charged protesters.
"Genuine, comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue is the only way forward to make progress on political, economic and social reforms," Ms Kocjancic said on Yemen, adding that the EU is ready to help the government in making such moves.
In Libya, between five and 12 people were reportedly killed during a "Day of Rage" organised in part via social networking sites.
Ms Ashton's spokeswoman had said earlier on Wednesday that her boss was: "following the situation very closely. As in other cases, we call on the authorities to listen to all those who are taking part in the protests ... and to allow freedom of expression,"
Meanwhile, in related news, Tunisia's industry minister, Mohamed Afif Chelbi has described European aid efforts for his country, fresh from its own revolutionary upheaval, as "ridiculous".
Visiting Italian businessmen in Rome to put minds at rest about their investments in the country, the minister said: "The figures put forward by the European Union are ridiculous and show that it has not understood the scale of the historical events in the southern Mediterranean."
The EU has pledged €258 million in aid by 2013 and €17 million in immediate assistance.
"When Ashton said €17 million, our minister thought he had misunderstood and asked: 'Millions or billions?' Once again, the European Union has not been up to the task of dealing with the region," said Mr Chelbi.
German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has also denounced the violence across the region, saying that citizens are "only realizing their rights" and that a "spark of freedom" has been lit after the Tunisian government fell.
The German free-market-liberal announced he will visit Egypt in the coming days and said that Europe should open its borders further to products from the region.
"Economic success would be the confirmation that democracy brings opportunities for people," he told the German Press Agency. "For this reason the European Union should open its own markets more for products from Tunisia and those countries that are just becoming democratic."