© Agence France-Presse/Joseph Eid
The Obama administration on Wednesday sharply warned Bahrain against violent crackdowns on anti-government demonstrators as unrest worsened around the Middle East.
The warning came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Egyptians to hold true to the ideals of their revolution while she toured Cairo's Tahrir Square, the symbolic heart of the peaceful uprising that toppled Egypt's longtime autocratic leader last month.
Carrying a message similar to that which she delivered in Egypt earlier in the day, Clinton arrived late Wednesday in Tunisia, where protesters demanding democratic freedoms inspired reformers around the Arab world. They succeeded in ousting their authoritarian ruler in January.
Clinton was to hold meetings with Tunisia's transitional leaders on Thursday, encourage civic leaders to press ahead with calls for change and pledge U.S. support for greater political, economic and social openness.
Clinton's democracy cheerleading tour to Egypt and Tunisia came as the situation in Bahrain deteriorated with soldiers and riot police expelling hundreds of protesters from a square in Bahrain's capital, using tear gas and armored vehicles. At least five people were killed Wednesday as clashes flared across the kingdom, according to witnesses and officials.
Bahrain, a strategic ally of the United States because it hosts the Navy's 5th Fleet, has sought and received hundreds of reinforcements for its security forces from neighbors like Saudi Arabia, raising fears of an escalation in violence and descent into the near civil war that is embroiling Libya. Forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have pressed ahead with assaults on opposition-held towns.