Bahrain detains former champion athlete: opposition

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2011 10:49 AM
Bahrain detains former champion athlete: opposition

By Jason Benham

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain has detained a former bodybuilding champion as part of a crackdown on mainly Shi'ite Muslim pro-democracy protesters in the Sunni-led Gulf Arab kingdom, the opposition said on Sunday.

Tareq al-Fursani, a gold medalist in several Asian championships, was arrested at his home in a village east of the capital Manama late on Saturday, a member of the country's largest Shi'ite opposition group, Wefaq, told Reuters.

"The authorities didn't allow him to call his family, which is the same for all the previous cases," said Wefaq's Mattar Ibrahim Mattar.

"The violation against human rights is continuing in Bahrain and they are ignoring calls for a political solution."

A rolling crackdown has targeted Bahrainis who took part in weeks of street protests demanding more freedom, an end to discrimination and a constitutional monarchy in the country, which is a U.S.-ally.

Bahrain's Sunni rulers crushed the protests last month, deploying security forces throughout the capital and calling in troops from Sunni-led Gulf neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mattar said 29 had been killed since the protests started including six non-Shi'ites. The six included two foreigners -- an Indian and a Bangladeshi -- and four policemen, he said.

The Shi'ite-led uprising unnerved neighboring Sunni countries, particularly Saudi Arabia which feared protests could spread further and embolden its own Shi'ites in the Eastern Province, home to most of the country's massive oil resources.

Gulf Arab rulers have accused non-Arab Shi'ite Iran of interfering in Bahrain, where Shi'ites form at least 60 percent of the country's Bahraini population of around 600,000.

Mattar said the number of registered detainees was currently around 500 but estimated up to 650 people may be in custody. Those included a human rights lawyer and at least two doctors detained on Saturday.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has also fired workers in state companies who took part in the protests, and Mattar said the government was warning students they could be barred from final exams if they were absent for 15 or more days.

Bahrain said on Thursday it would seek court approval to dissolve the Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq, which won 18 seats in the 40-seat parliament last year. The foreign minister, in a statement that appeared to contradict justice ministry remarks, denied the report.

Wefaq, which resigned its seats in parliament in protest against the crackdown, has called for a constitutional monarchy but did not join smaller groups in demanding the overthrow of the al-Khalifa ruling family.

Parliament has little power and the cabinet, appointed by the king, has been headed by the same member of the ruling family for four decades.

(Reporting by Jason Benham; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sophie Hares)