Bahrain cracks down on protests; UN rights watchdog slams govt

Bahrain`s crackdown on protests by the Shi`ites has drawn rare US criticism.

Updated: Mar 17, 2011, 23:39 PM IST

Manama: Authorities in Bahrain on Thursday
arrested six top Shia and Sunni opposition leaders in a
crackdown on pro-democracy protests in the country, prompting
the UN human rights watchdog to slam the government for
"shocking" use of force.

Those arrested were dissident leaders including
five Shias and one Sunni and were taken into custody overnight
and early morning as heavily armed forces and tanks blocked
most of the city`s thoroughfares.

Opposition leader Hassan Mushaima of the Haq Movement,
who had returned last month from self-imposed exile to the UK,
was one of the prominent leaders detained as authorities
declared that holding of rallies would remain banned.

Abdel Wahhab Hussein from Wafa party and Sunni liberal
leader Ibrahim Sharif from the Waad Society were among the six
opposition leaders arrested.

"Significant members of the opposition were arrested
overnight, including some prominent activists. Soldiers broke
into the houses of these figures early in the morning and made
these arrests," Al Jazeera reported.

Amid the crackdown by the security forces, UN human
rights chief Navi Pillay condemned the "shocking" use of force
by security forces against the pro-democracy protesters.

"There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings,
beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the
takeover of hospitals and medical centres by various security
forces," Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was
quoted as saying by the BBC in a statement.

"This is shocking and illegal conduct."

Security forces earlier sealed off the main hospital
and some smaller health centres in the capital. Rights
activists accused the authorities of assaulting the doctors
and nurses as they tried to help the wounded in the streets,
the BBC said.

Pillai said that reports of a military takeover of
hospitals was a blatant violation of international law.

She called on the authorities to check the forces
accused of assaulting and arresting people.

All offices, banks, schools and business establishment
remained close for the second day as Bahrain`s King Hamad Bin
Isa Al Khalifa came under mounting diplomatic pressure to end
the crackdown and start negotiations with the dissidents.

The Indian nationals were reported to be safe in the
country which has witnessed attacks on some Pakistani and
Bangladeshis, an Indian resident said from Manama.

Bahrain has nearly 300,000 Indians, making them the
single largest expatriate community in the tiny Gulf country.

The Bahraini military said "leaders of the civil
strife" had been arrested for communicating with foreign
countries and calling for the fall of the regime, the BBC said
quoting state television.

US President Barack Obama, whose country is a close
ally of Bahrain, called King Hamad to express "deep concern"
at the bloody crackdown.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged the
King to pursue "reforms not repression."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now on a visit
to countries in the region which have witnessed upheavals, has
criticised the deployment in the country, which houses
American Navy`s 5th fleet.

"What is happening in Bahrain is alarming and it was
unfortunately diverting attention and effort away from the
political and economic track. That is the only way forward to
resolve differences," Clinton said.

Six people, including three policemen, were killed and
more than 1,000 others injured in clashes that ensued during
yesterday`s bloody assault.

The crackdown has angered Shias who comprise 70 per
cent of the Kingdom`s estimated population of 550,000 and Al
Jazeera says that the country`s Health Minister Nizar Baharna,
a Shia, had announced his resignation to protest against the
police bursting into hospitals.

At least 12 Shia judges have also resigned.
Bahrain has imposed a three-month emergency rule that
gives the military powers to battle the pro-democracy
protests that began in mid-February.