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Opposition Leaders Arrested After Deadly Crackdown in Bahrain

March 18, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Middle East, Protests with 0 Comments

Authorities in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain have arrested leading opposition figures and other activists following a bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters. At least six people, including three policemen, have been killed, with over 1,000 more injured. The United Nations condemned the “shocking and illegal” abuses by the US-backed regime of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, calling the crackdown a “blatant violation of international law.”

“There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centers by various security forces,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said. “This is shocking and illegal conduct.”

Bahraini security forces backed by military tanks and helicopters fired tear gas and shotgun rounds as they cleared a pro-democracy encampment from Pearl Roundabout in the capital city of Manama on Wednesday. King Khalifa declared a three-month state of emergency as more than 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were sent to Bahrain as part of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bid to help the Khalifa regime remain in power and restore order.

According to al-Jazeera, opposition leaders arrested include: Hassan Mushaima, who returned last month from exile in the United Kingdom after Bahraini authorities dropped charges against him; Ibrahim Sharif, leader of the Waad political society; and Abdul Jalil al-Singace, leader of the Haq movement.

Amnesty International slammed the violent crackdown, saying the Khalifa regime was “very clearly trying to suppress any kind of freedom of speech.” Amnesty’s EU representative, Nicolas Berger, told the Associated Press that security forces were using live ammunition against peaceful protesters and had occupied Salmaniya Hospital, the country’s largest, in a largely successful bid to prevent wounded demonstrators from seeking medical help. “You shoot at them and prevent them from getting help,” he said. “That is one way of trying to deter other people from participating in demonstrations.” “Over 100 medical staff are unable to leave,” a senior doctor from Salmaniya told al-Jazeera. “Soldiers won’t let us. We are running out of critical equipment, such as sterilization equipment and oxygen tanks.”

Iran and Iraq have condemned the Bahraini crackdown, with Tehran recalling its ambassador from Bahrain. Iraqi Shiites protested against the Khalifa regime’s violent suppression of dissent. A Sunni minority rules over a Shiite majority in Bahrain, with the latter excluded from prominent roles in the government and military. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki publicly spoke out against the violence while the country’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded that Bahraini authorities “stop using violence against unarmed citizens.”

While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Bahrain and its GCC allies were “on the wrong track,” Washington has stopped short of condemning the crackdown. The US Navy 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, an important strategic ally. The massive American military presence is seen by Washington as a bulwark against Iranian power. Iran lies just across the Persian Gulf from Bahrain.

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