|More than 60 per cent of Bahrainis are Shia, and most are campaigning for a constitutional monarchy [AFP]|
Bahrain’s Shia opposition leader has demanded that the Saudi-led force that was invited into the country to help quell anti-government protests should leave the country.
Ali Salman said on Wednesday that foreign troops must leave because the opposition rejects “any military intervening for any party” in Bahrain.
About 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states entered Bahrain two weeks ago on the Sunni monarch’s invitation.
Bahrain’s king also declared emergency rule and cracked down heavily on protesters who have challenged the royal family’s monopoly on power.
Iran, the main Shia power in the region, strongly condemned the deployment. But Salman on Wednesday also said Iran should not interfere.
He told reporters that “we don’t want Bahrain to turn into a conflict zone” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Meanwhile, Bahrain is expanding the crackdown on the opposition, detaining a prominent blogger, his family and a social media editor said.
Amira al-Hussaini, a Middle East and North Africa editor at Global Voices Online said police took Mahmoud al-Youssef, the “godfather of the Bahraini blogging community,” into custody early on Wednesday. Two other internet activists were also said to be arrested.
Al-Youssef has for years criticised the Bahraini government for curbing freedom of expression, al-Hussaini said.
He has supported the Shia-led protests and advocated political reform through dialogue between the government and the opposition.
Al-Youssef’s brother, Jamal, confirmed the arrest. He said his brother was taken into custody from his home in Duraz, an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital Manama.
Government officials in Manama declined to comment.
The arrest comes a day after Bahrain’s parliament accepted the resignations of 11 lawmakers from the Shia opposition in another sign that the political crisis and sectarian divisions are deepening in the tiny Gulf kingdom.
The 11 lawmakers of Al Wefaq and seven other from the opposition’s biggest party submitted resignations last month over the deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.
US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that Bahrain authorities were harassing and isolating hospital patients wounded in the protests.
Twenty-four people died in the clashes, the government said on Tuesday, and the Wefaq party said 250 people have been detained and another 44 have gone missing since the crackdown.
“Human Rights Watch has documented several cases in which patients with protest-related injuries were transferred to or sought treatment at Salmaniya (hospital) and were then severely harassed or beaten,” it said in a statement.
In the March 16 crackdown, Bahraini forces took over Salmaniya medical centre, the country’s largest public hospital.
The government has said it raided the hospital because it had been “overrun by political and sectarian activity”.
HRW cited several cases where patients were quickly picked up by police after they gave hospitals their identification and cited the cause of their injuries as tear gas, rubber bullets, and birdshot, which were all used to disperse protesters.
HRW said the patients’ families were given no information on the whereabouts or condition of their relatives.