WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Friday said it was deeply troubled by the arrests of Bahraini opposition leaders and called on the country's government to ensure legal proceedings for those arrested were fair and transparent.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has arrested seven opposition leaders and driven pro-democracy demonstrators from the streets after weeks of protests that prompted the king to declare martial law and drew in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. The protests by the Shi'ite demonstrators against the Sunnis have resulted in violence and battered the country's economy.
The U.S. State Department said it was particularly concerned about the arrest of Ibrahim Sharif, a prominent leader of Wa'ad, a political group recognized by the Government of Bahrain, and the reported detention of Dr. Ali Al-Ekri, a senior physician at Bahrain's largest public hospital.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Bahrain government must ensure the safety of those arrested and commit to open legal proceedings that comply with the country's law and international legal obligations.
"We also call on security forces to cease violence, especially on medical personnel and facilities," he said. "Protestors, too, must engage peacefully and responsibly.
"The Bahraini government must exercise maximum restraint as it deals with this situation and must ensure that GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) forces do so as well," he said.
Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, Bahrain's foreign minister, said on Friday the government is committed to talking with the opposition but has placed security as its top priority. Three or four Gulf States are sending troops who would remain until calm was reached, he said.
(Editing by Bill Trott)