Bahrain to monitor religious forums

Published: Sep 6, 2010 00:46 Updated: Sep 6, 2010 00:46 

DUBAI: Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa gave a national address on 
Sunday to decry "strife, aggression and terrorism" and announced plans for 
greater government monitoring of "religious forums" - an apparent reference to 
preachers and others who seek to challenge the government.

"We hope and expect that everyone will stand firm to protect this nation from 
strife and evils in the face of violence and terrorism in all its forms," he 

A day earlier, state media released the photographs of 23 Shiites - ranging 
from opposition figures to professors and taxi drivers - accused of conspiring 
to overthrow the government. They include opposition leader Abdul-Jalil 
Al-Singace, whose arrest on Aug. 13 marked the first salvo by the government. 
Since then, the government has steadily ramped up the pressure.

Rights groups say more than 250 people have been detained. The backlash spilled 
onto the streets with gangs and police clashing on opposite sides of barricades 
of burning tires.

On Saturday, officials said the 23 detained activists were part of a plot to 
overthrow the government of this Gulf kingdom - a Western ally and homeport for 
the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

"This sophisticated terrorist network with operations inside and outside 
Bahrain has undertaken and planned a systematic and layered campaign of 
violence and subversion aimed squarely at undermining the national security of 
Bahrain," said a statement by public prosecution official Abdul-Rahman Al-Sayed 
after the arrests were announced Saturday.

No details of the coup plot have been made public.

The clampdown comes ahead of Oct. 23 elections for Parliament, where Shiites 
currently have 17 of the 40 seats and could make a bid for a majority in the 
upcoming balloting.

The confrontation also showcases Bahrain's role as the centerpiece for Gulf 
concerns about Iran. Some Gulf countries harbor suspicions about Iran's effort 
to expand its regional clout. Yet only Bahrain has a sizable Shiite population 
that is seen as a possible beachhead for Iran on the Arab side of the Gulf.

Hard-liners in Iran have often described Bahrain as Iran's "14th Province." But 
no clear evidence has emerged of Iranian aid to the opposition groups in 
Bahrain, and Bahrain's leadership issued a statement last week distancing 
itself from any accusations toward Iran.

Shadi Hamid, a Gulf affairs researcher at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, 
said: "There is more and more concern about Iranian influence even if it can be 
proven or not."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a short visit Sunday to Qatar, the 
only Gulf state that has welcomed him since Iran's disputed presidential 
election last year. At a news conference with Qatar's leader, Ahmadinejad said 
they agreed on the need for reconciliation and cooperation between Iran and its 
neighbors, but Bahrain's unrest was not specifically mentioned.

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