Shiite leader says security forces hit too hard at Bahraini protesters

Bahrain's top Shiite politician, Sheik Ali Salman, said last week's clampdown on Shiite protesters has destroyed a decade of stable sectarian relations.

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MANAMA // Bahrain's top Shiite politician said last week's clampdown on Shiite protesters has destroyed a decade of stable sectarian relations. Bahrain has experienced daily clashes for the past week between Shiite protesters and Sunni-dominated security forces because of a series of arrests of leading Shiite activists. "The way the ongoing security campaign had been handled and the rights violations that accompanied it has in one week destroyed 10 years of progress in this country," said Sheik Ali Salman, the head of Wefaq society, the largest Shiite bloc in parliament at a press conference on Saturday.

He also accused the government of tarnishing Bahrain's human-rights record and warned violence would not solve the continued problems between the two groups. Mr Salman also said in a statement the authorities have set up checkpoints in several areas in a move he described as "unnecessary". "Nobody knows where they are being held, they did not meet their lawyers and did not contact their families," he said of the suspects. A government statement issued on Saturday blamed internationally funded insurgents for trying to disrupt national security. The statement also said the suspects were arrested according to Bahraini anti-terrorism laws.

The state news agency BNA quoted a security official as saying that several of the arrested activists have admitted receiving funds to support groups which "incite violence". The suspects have "admitted to receiving funds and donations from religious scholars and businessmen under various covers, which they allegedly used to help... groups commit heinous acts," the official said late on Saturday. "Investigations... proved that the suspects and others inside and outside [Bahrain] are leading sabotage groups and providing them with financial support to carry out acts of violence and terror throughout the kingdom," he said.

The lawyer Mohammed al Tajir estimates that over the past week 160 people have been arrested, including 10 high-level leaders. Bahrain's National Security Agency said last week that four Shiite men suspected of forming "an organised network aiming to shake the security and stability of the country" had been arrested. Abduljalil al Singace, a leader of the opposition association Haq, was arrested on August 14. Three others - Sheikh Mohammed al Moqdad, Sheikh Saeed al Nuri and Abdulghani Ali Issa Khanjar - were detained the next day. Mr Moqdad and Mr Singace had been released from prison in April 2009 in a royal pardon for 178 people detained on security charges. On Wednesday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned the arrests and said four others were also detained last week, naming them as Jaffar al Hessabi, Mirza al Mahroos, Abdulhadi al Mukhuder and Mohammed Saeed. Mr Saeed is a board member of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, they said. Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni dynasty but has a Shiite majority population. The archipelago state was plagued in the 1990s by a wave of Shiite-led unrest which has abated since the authorities launched steps to convert the country into a constitutional monarchy.

* AP and AFP