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Middle east

Shiite opposition leaders arrested

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-03-17

Bahrain arrested at least five opposition leaders early Thursday, including members of the hardline Shiite Haq movement, which has called for an end to the Bahraini monarchy.

AP- Authorities detained at least five prominent opposition activists on Thursday as the crackdown on dissent widened under martial law-style rule in the tiny Gulf nation, a rights group and the relatives of the arrested said.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said those taken into custody in the pre-dawn raids include Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Sangaece  who were among 25 Shiite activists on trial for trying to overthrow the nation’s Sunni rulers. The charges were dropped in a bid to calm tensions after political unrest began last month, but the latest sweeps suggests authorities have abandoned efforts at dialogue and are trying to silence the opposition leaders.

The group said the others detained include Shiite activists Abdul Wahad Hussein and Hassan Hadad and Sunni liberal leader Ibrahim Sharif, who had joined with Bahrain’s majority Shiites to demand the Sunni monarchy loosen its grip on power.

“I saw men in black pointing a machine gun at my husband saying just one thing: ‘We are from the state security,”” said Sahrif’s wife Farida Guhlam.

Bahrain has imposed a three-month emergency rule that gives the military wide powers to battle the pro-democracy uprising that began in mid-February in the strategic nation, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Increasingly, the struggle appears to be framed along sectarian lines: the Sunni monarchy and its backers using everything at their disposal to retain power, and Shiites hoping their overwhelming population advantage will be their most potent weapon to disrupt the country and bring the leadership to its knees.

Sunni authorities in the region also see Bahrain as an important stand against possible expansion of influence by Shiite power Iran.

SPOTLIGHT: SAUDI TROOPS ARRIVE IN BAHRAIN

About 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are in Bahrain as part of a Gulf task force to help the Sunni rulers. The move, however, has brought sharp criticism from close ally Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told CBS News that the introduction of Gulf forces was “the wrong track.”

On Wednesday, soldiers and riot police overran a protesters’ camp in the capital Manama and clashed with Shiites in several areas of the country. At least five people were killed two policemen and three protesters  in the assault on the encampment in Pearl Square, according to opposition groups and the government.

Meanwhile, doctors at the country’s main hospital said the facility was controlled by security forces, blocking physicians from leaving.

Authorities have imposed a 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew and restricted movement around the country severely hampering efforts by journalists to conduct firsthand reporting.

The Salmaniya hospital complex has become a political hotspot. The mostly Shiite personnel are seen by authorities as possible protest sympathizers. The staff claim they must treat all who need care.

There have been moments of open anger. As overwhelmed teams treated the injured, many broke out in calls to topple the monarchy.

“We are under siege,” said Nihad el-Shirawi, an intensive care doctor who said she had been working for 48 hours. “We cannot leave, and those on-call cannot come in.”

Officials in the hospital said they took in 107 injured from Wednesday’s violence. Nine were in critical condition, officials in the hospital said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. The Salmaniya hospital also treated 322 people injured in clashes across the kingdom on Tuesday, the official said.

The government also is offering hints of a growing propaganda campaign. A statement Wednesday said forces conducted an operation to “cleanse” Pearl Square and later state TV called the demonstrators “saboteurs” and “outlaws.”

A senior opposition leader, Abdul Jalil Khalil, believes the messages seek to bring sectarian civil war.

“And what do they think, that spreading this hate will break our will?” Khalil said. “Until now, we were defiant at Pearl Square. Now we are defiant in every village and town.”

Date created : 2011-03-17

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