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Mon 4 Feb 2008 11:51 AM

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Lawyers boycott hearing over Bahrain unrest

Trial of 15 Bahrainis on charges relating to deadly unrest adjourned till February 24.

The trial of 15 Bahrainis on charges relating to deadly unrest in Shi'ite-populated areas last December was adjourned on Sunday until February 24 after their lawyers boycotted a hearing held under strict security, an correspondent for newswire AFP said.

The 15 were charged after staging a demonstration following the death of another protester in an opposition rally on December 17 to demand compensation for victims of alleged human rights violations in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 15 are charged with unlawful assembly, stealing weapons, burning a police vehicle and committing acts of violence against police officers.

Their lawyers boycotted Sunday's hearing after the court session was postponed from the morning until 3pm (1200 GMT), which they said was "against the law, which says that a hearing must be held during official working hours", Hafedh Hafedh, a spokesman for the lawyers, told AFP.

Because of the boycott the trial was adjourned to February 24.

Shi'ites are a majority in the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain which is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty.

There was a heavy police presence on Sunday outside the justice ministry as relatives and friends of the 15 accused shouted anti-government slogans and called for them to be set free.

Between 1994 and 1999, at least 38 people died in Shi'ite-led protests in the Gulf archipelago which is the home base for the US Fifth Fleet and was among the countries visited by US President George W. Bush in January.

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