BAHRAIN PROTESTS: Pressure mounts on Bahrain as fourth protester dies 18Mar11 March 20, 2011

Al Arabiya -  19 March 2011

Pressure mounted on Bahrain to exercise restraint and ensure the safety of arrested opposition leaders, as a fourth person died Saturday after security forces quelled a month-old pro-democracy protest earlier this week.

The pressure came as King Hamad promised to press on with reforms.

Overnight, the United States said it was “deeply troubled” by the arrest of several opposition figures and activists in the small Gulf kingdom, urging authorities to ensure transparent judicial proceedings.

“We call on the government of Bahrain to ensure the security of person of all arrestees and to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain’s international legal obligations,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

Washington also called on Bahraini “security forces to cease violence, especially on medical personnel and facilities,” he said, urging “maximum restraint” by the Bahraini government and that protesters also “engage peacefully and responsibly.”

Toner expressed particular concern over the arrests of Ibrahim Sharif, leader of Wa’ad, a recognised political society, and Ali al-Ekri, a doctor who was arrested after criticising conditions at Manama’ main Salmaniya hospital.

60 missing

On Saturday, a protester missing since the crackdown earlier this week was confirmed dead, an opposition MP said, bring to four the total killed in the latest violence.

Matar Matar said the dead man “was one of those missing since Wednesday,” whose number he put at “around 60.”

Police have been posted outside the hospital, where doctors have allegedly been attacked as they try to help injured protesters. The government has denied the allegations.

The government has launched a bloody crackdown to stop Shiite-led protests, declaring martial law and rounding up dissidents at gunpoint in midnight raids.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday that the crackdown on anti-government protesters might be breaking international law and expressed “his deepest concern over reports of excessive and indiscriminate use of force.”

Police have been posted outside Manama’s Salmaniya hospital, where doctors have allegedly been attacked as they try to help injured protesters. The government has denied the allegations.

Al-Ekri, who had been accused on state TV of spreading “fabrications” about conditions at the hospital, was arrested there on Thursday, opposition leaders said.

Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s foreign minister, said on Friday the government is committed to talking with the opposition but has placed security as its top priority. Three or four Gulf States are sending troops who would remain until calm was reached, he said.

Their role would be limited to guarding strategic assets such as oil facilities, however, and they will not be involved in quelling protests, he told a news conference in Manama.

“We look with all confidence to the return of normal life in Bahrain,” Sheikh Khaled said. “We know dialogue is our path.”

In defiance of martial law

Thousands of Bahraini Shiites defied martial law to renew their pro-democracy protests on Friday, as they gathered after prayers to bury a victim of the security forces’ bloody crackdown.

More than 5,000 chanted slogans for a “free Bahrain” and denounced a Saudi-led military force sent to help put down the unrest, during a funeral in the town of Sitra which was the scene of violent clashes on Tuesday.

Another funeral took place in Karranah village, west of Manama, for protester Jaafar Abd Ali, 41, who was killed in the attack on Manama’s Pearl Square on Wednesday.

Another protester killed at the square, Jaafar Maayuf, 30, was buried on Thursday evening in Aali village, southwest of Manama.

In the Shiite town of Diraz, west of Manama, thousands poured out of mosques after Friday prayers and promised to “sacrifice blood for Bahrain.”

They also called for restraint and non-violence in the face of alleged crimes by the Sunni kingdom’s police and military.

Sheikh Issa Qassem, Bahrain’s senior Shiite cleric, said in a sermon that people demanding rights and reform “do not believe in violence that authorities are trying to push them to.”

“The peaceful approach has been our choice since day one.”

Buses packed with security personnel arrived at the scene but there were no reports of violence.

The protests are the first since security forces firing tear gas and shotguns assaulted a month-old pro-democracy sit-in Wednesday at Pearl Square.

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