Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Bahrain to lift emergency rule

A car passes a pro-government billboard in Bahrain which shows pictures of jailed opposition leaders (AP)

Bahrain's king has ordered an end to the emergency rule imposed in mid-March to quell a wave of anti-government protests as leading opposition figures went on trial for plotting against the Gulf state's monarchy.

Bahrain state TV said the state of emergency will end on June 1 in line with a royal decree. The lifting of the martial laws - two weeks before the three-month emergency rule's official expiry - seemed to reflect the rulers' determination to again showcase the kingdom as stable and able to host international events such as the Formula One race.

Since martial law was imposed on March 15, authorities have been aggressively pursuing Shiite opposition supporters who staged weeks of street marches earlier this year, demanding greater freedoms, equal rights and an elected government in the strategic island kingdom, home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

Hundreds of protesters, activists, political leaders and Shiite professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been detained.

Late last month, the security court sentenced four protesters to death for killing two policemen in the unrest. Three other opposition supporters were convicted as accomplices in the murders and were sentenced to life in prison.

The 21 opposition leaders and political activists who went on trial on Sunday in a special security court set up under the emergency rule face charges of attempting to overthrow the Sunni monarchy.

Fourteen members of the group are in custody. The others were charged in absentia. During the closed-door court proceedings, the 21 defendants pleaded not guilty. Another hearing was set for Thursday.

The allegations include seeking to topple the 200-year-old Sunni monarchy and having links to "a terrorist organisation abroad working for a foreign country". No additional details were made public, but Bahrain's leaders have claimed that Lebanon's Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah is involved in Bahrain's protests.

At least 30 people have been killed since members of Bahrain's Shiite majority took their grievances to the streets in February. The protests were inspired by revolts against autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Last week, Formula One's governing body gave Bahrain until June 3 to decide if a new date could be set for this year.

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