Middle East

Bahrain arrests top six opposition leaders

arrestedSeveral opposition leaders and activists have been arrested in Bahrain following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in the tiny Gulf kingdom, reports say.Among those arrested were Hassan Mushaima, who had returned last month from self-imposed exile to the UK after the Bahraini authorities dropped charges against him, and Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad political society, a secular group  comprising mostly Sunni members.

Also taken into custody on early on Thursday was Abdul Jalil al-Singace, a leader of the Haq movement, who was jailed last August but was freed in late February as part of concessions by the Khalifa royal family to protesters.

“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.”

The arrests were made hours after security forces swooped down on the Pearl Roundabout in the centre of the capital and dispersed pro-democracy protesters camped there.

At least Eight people, including three policemen, were killed and more than 1,000 others injured in clashes that ensued during Wednesday’s assault. A curfew was imposed in areas of the city following the crackdown to crush the pro-democracy movement.

A senior doctor from Bahrain’s Salmaniya Hospital, the country’s largest public hospital where the injured were taken, told AFP that “Thursday is a critical day”.

“Over 100 medical staff are unable to leave. Soldiers won’t let us. We are running out of critical equipment, such as sterilisation equipment and oxygen tanks,” he said.

Heart of protests

The Pearl Roundabout had been the focal point of anti-government protests sweeping Bahrain. Protesters, alleging discrimination and lack of rights, are seeking political reforms in the kingdom.

Wednesday’s crackdown came only two days after Saudi Arabia dispatched its troops and a day after a state of emergency was declared in Bahrain to quash the protests.

Hundreds of Saudi-led troops entered Bahrain on Monday as part of a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) initiative to help protect government facilities there.

The crackdown drew international criticism, with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warning that Bahrain and its GCC allies were “on the wrong track”.

Neighbouring Iran and Iraq also condemned the violence.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, spoke out against the military intervention while Grand Ayotollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top-ranked Shia cleric, called on Bahraini authorities to “stop using violence against unarmed citizens”, Hamed al-Khafaf, his spokesman, said.

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