Bahrain authorities detain six opposition leaders

Bahrain appears to be shifting strategy from offers of dialogue to suppressing the protests. But the heavy-handed tactics seem to be merely hardening protesters' resolve.

14 February Media Committee/AP
Smoke and flames appear after clashes between protesters and security forces in Pearl Square, Manama on Wednesday March 16. Soldiers and riot police used tear gas and armored vehicles to drive out hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark square in Bahrain's capital, a day after emergency rule was imposed in the violence-wracked Gulf kingdom.

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Bahrain authorities, bolstered by Saudi troops and a state of emergency, appear to be abandoning efforts to dialogue with protesters in favor of suppressing the demonstrations that began in earnest a month ago.

Security forces today detained at least six opposition leaders a day after a major crackdown that resulted in deadly clashes and expelled hundreds of protesters from Pearl Roundabout, the symbolic center of the protests. Those arrested include Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Sangaece, who were among 25 Shiites put on trial last year for plotting against the country's Sunni rulers.

The government recently dropped the case against the two opposition activists in a bid to calm unrest in the small Gulf nation after protests erupted last month. The AP said that Thursday’s arrests suggest that the government, which had previously offered to enter talks with the protest movement, is now concentrating its efforts on suppressing protests.

Both Mr. Mushaima and Mr. Sangaece were active in the newly formed, hard-line Coalition for a Republic that aims to topple the Sunni monarchy through peaceful civil disobedience, Reuters reports. The coalition's demands go a step further than those of most of the protesters, the majority of whom are demanding political reform, a true constitutional monarchy, and more jobs – but not regime change.

Last week, Mushaima told reporters at the Pearl Roundabout that despite the government’s efforts to end the protests, the coalition demanded the establishment of “a democratic republican system.”

"The monarchy has failed to bring down the revolution by force, and it now aims ... to co-opt its legitimate demands through murky political games and ... by inciting chaos," Mushaima said, according to Reuters.

The Sunni liberal leader Ibrahim Sharif, who had crossed sectarian lines to support the creation of a secular democracy, was also among those arrested on Thursday, the Youth Society group told the AP.

"Two of the thugs climbed over the fence to get in our yard, one went over and pointed a gun in Ibrahim's face and the other went to our garage to let everyone else in," Farida Ismail, Sharif's wife, told Reuters of the arrest by telephone. "They were going around, wrecking things in the house."

Ms. Ismail also told the AP that she “saw men in black pointing a machine gun at my husband saying just one thing: 'We are from the state security.’ ”

The AP reporters that two others accused in last year's coup trial were arrested: Shiite activist Hassan Hadad and Abdul Hadi al-Mokhdar. The government has yet to confirm or comment on these arrests.

"This is alarming and our priority is to stop the bleeding of the country," said senior opposition leader Abdul Jalil Khalil about the arrests. He said the opposition is expecting more arrests of its leaders.

The arrests come a day after security forces drove out hundreds of protesters from Pearl Roundabout, leaving at least five dead. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the crackdown and called for dialogue between the government and opposition.

Democratic activists appear less willing to negotiate after today’s arrests. Matar Ibrahim, a former Shiite member of parliament who stepped down in protest of the crackdown, told the BBC that the government’s use of violence has only hardened opposition attitudes.

"We refuse to enter a dialogue while there are guns pointed at our heads," he said.

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