Bahrain accuses activists of plots to topple state

Bahrain`s Shiite majority are widening crackdown on a pro-reform uprising.

Manama: Bahrain`s military prosecutor accused 21 political activists Sunday of seeking to overthrow the ruling monarchy with the help of a foreign terrorist group — an apparent reference to Iranian-backed militants — in a widening crackdown on a pro-reform uprising by the island nation`s Shiite majority.

The charges are part of fast-moving efforts by Bahrain`s authorities to prosecute opposition leaders and others after months of clashes and protests in the strategic kingdom, which is home to the US Navy`s 5th Fleet. Late last month, a special security court set up under martial law sentenced four people to death for killing two policemen in the unrest.

The latest cases were tried by the same court, according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency. Fourteen members of the group are in custody, including several prominent Shiite political figures. The others are charged in absentia.

The allegations include seeking to topple the 200-year-old Sunni monarchy and having links to "a terrorist organization abroad working for a foreign country." No addition details were made public, but Bahrain`s leaders have claimed that the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon has sought to make inroads in Bahrain with the protests.

Bahrain also is locked in a deepening quarrel with Iran, which has sharply criticized the waves of arrests and the dispatch of a 1,500-strong Saudi-led force in March to prop up the monarchy.

Protests began in February — inspired by others across the Arab world — by Shiites demanding a greater political voice and other reforms in the tiny Gulf nation. Shiites comprise about 70 percent of Bahrain`s population, but are excluded from top government and security posts. More than 30 people have died in the unrest.

Bureau Report

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