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Fri 13 May 2011 10:34 AM

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Saudi-led forces set to remain in Bahrain

Head of Bahrain's military says forces to stay put after state of emergency is lifted next month

Saudi-led forces set to remain in Bahrain
Bahraini army tanks block streets leading to Pearl Square in the capital Manama on March 16, 2011. (Getty Images)

Saudi-led forces will remain in Bahrain after a state of emergency is lifted next month, the head of Bahrain's military said, as the Gulf state continues to clamp down on protests.

Separately, a Western lawyer and an observer from an international human rights group were banned from attending the trial on Thursday of 21 mostly Shi'ite activists charged with attempting to topple the government.

Gulf Arab forces would remain in Bahrain "in anticipation of any foreign threat", Commander-in-Chief Sheikh Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Khalifa was reported as saying by the state news agency BNA.

He warned protesters against returning to the streets.

"I say to those who did not get the message, if you return we will come back stronger this time."

US-allied Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, is set on June 1 to lift martial law imposed in March after weeks of pro-democracy protests led mainly by Shi'ites calling for greater political freedoms, a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination.

Bahrain accuses Iran of helping instigate the protests. Neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states sent troops to back Bahrain's forces during the crackdown, boosting regional tension.

At least 29 people, all but six of them Shi'ites, have been killed since the protests started, inspired by Arab revolts that toppled the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.

The opposition says hundreds of people have been arrested and four died in police custody in April in Bahrain, where the Sunni king rules over a Shi'ite majority.

Four policemen also died in the unrest, including at least two who were run over by the cars of Shi'ite protesters. The six non-Shi'ites killed included the four policemen. Four activists were sentenced to death over the killing of the police.

A security court on Thursday jailed a man for 15 years for the attempted murder of several security men, disrupting public order and damaging Interior Ministry cars, BNA reported.

The trial of 21 opposition activists, seven of whom are being tried in absentia, resumed on Thursday after being adjourned to allow defence lawyers to meet with clients and in some cases to appoint lawyers.

Brian Dooley, a director at Human Rights First, told Reuters he was not allowed to attend the trial while Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said an international lawyer was threatened with arrest if she did not leave the court building.

State media has said the men were accused of organising and managing a terrorist group bent on toppling the government and corresponding with a terrorist group abroad working for a foreign country against Bahrain, among other charges.

Bahrain will try five prison guards over the death in police custody of a Shi'ite activist during protests by the Gulf kingdom's Shi'ite majority, BNA said late on Wednesday.

Activist Ali Saqer, who died in prison last month, had been charged with attempting to run over a policeman with his car.

US-based Human Rights Watch said it had seen his body, and it bore signs of physical abuse.

"The investigations have shown ...that five guards of the detention cell of the deceased violated the law and committed criminal acts," BNA quoted an Interior Ministry official as saying. "They were arrested and will be tried."

The government denies there is torture in Bahrain.

Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that Bahrain should suspend prosecution of civilians in military courts and set up an impartial body to look into allegations of torture during a clampdown on those involved in the protests.

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