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Bahrain jails Shiite opponents

Bahrain has jailed eight Shiite activists accused of plotting to overthrow the state for life.

Prominent Shiite political leader Hassan Mushaima, Shiite activist Abduljalil Al Singace and six others were sentenced today.

Pro-reform figure Ibrahim Sharif received five years and other sentences ranged from two to 15 years.

A total of 21 suspects were on trial - 14 in custody and the rest in absentia.

Bahrain has waged a sweeping crackdown on Shiite-led protesters seeking greater rights from the Sunni monarchy.

Shiite crowds blocked roads and called for protest marches - suggesting the court decision could spark another round of unrest after months of lockdown-level security by military and police units in Bahrain, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

The sentences also could threaten efforts by Bahrain's Sunni leaders to open talks next week with Shiite groups. Shiites comprise about 70% of Bahrain's population, but claim they face systematic discrimination such as being barred from top government and political posts.

The protests - inspired by the wider Arab uprisings - have claimed at least 31 lives and put Western officials in the difficult position of both denouncing the violence but standing by the rulers in a key military ally.

The Shiite activists were charged with trying to overthrow Bahrain's 200-year-old monarchy and of having links to "a terrorist organisation abroad."

Bahrain's rulers fears that any gains by Bahrain's Shiites could open new footholds for influence by Iran, a predominantly Shiite country. Bahrain also accuses Iranian-backed Hezbollah of having a role in the protests.


From Belfast Telegraph