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Bahrain dissident chief boycotts Qatar-linked trial

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Dubai (AFP)

Bahrain's jailed Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman refused to appear in court Monday to face charges of communicating with the Qatar to "overthrow the regime", the attorney general said.

Salman and two members of his banned Al-Wefaq movement, Hassan Sultan and Ali al-Aswad, are charged with "communicating with a foreign state to commit acts hostile to the state of Bahrain with the intent to harm its political, economic and national interests in order to overthrow the regime," Attorney General Osama al-Awfi said.

The jailed opposition leader "refused to attend the hearing", which has been deferred to Wednesday, Awfi said in a statement.

Salman has been behind bars since 2014 serving a nine-year sentence for allegedly inciting hatred, while Sultan and Aswad are on the run.

In August, Bahraini authorities accused Salman of having collaborated with Qatar in 2011 to encourage protestors to take to the streets.

The accusations came after Bahrain was one of four countries to cut ties with Qatar in June over alleged support for Islamist extremism and ties with Shiite-dominated Iran. Doha denies the allegations.

Ruled for more than 200 years by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, Bahrain is home to a Shiite majority that for years has complained of political marginalisation.

The archipelago, which is located between regional arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, has been rocked by protests demanding an elected government since 2011.

Bahraini authorities have also accused Iran of backing the protestors and of aiming to overthrow the government, but Tehran has denied any involvement.

Over the past six years, Bahraini authorities have tightened their grip on all dissent, jailing dozens of high-profile clerics and activists and disbanding both religious and secular opposition groups.

Salman was head of the Shiite movement Al-Wefaq, once the largest bloc in Bahrain's elected lower house of parliament.

Al-Wefaq's members of parliament resigned en masse in 2011 in protest against the state's crackdown on demonstrators.

A 2016 court order dissolved Al-Wefaq for "harbouring terrorism".

Bahrain is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

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