Bahrain investigators close office after scuffles

AP News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2011 2:43 AM
Bahrain investigators close office after scuffles

An international panel investigating Bahrain's unrest closed its office Tuesday after angry crowds scuffled with staff members following reports that government officials would be cleared of committing abuses against protesters seeking greater rights.

A statement by the Bahrain Commission of Inquiry said no conclusions have been made and that probes will continue into the Shiite-led demonstrations and the sweeping crackdowns by the Sunni monarchy in the Gulf island nation.

But the commission said its main office will be shut and vowed it "will not allow itself to be used as a political tool" by either side.

The decision by the five-member commission _ which includes international judicial and human rights experts _ underscores the hair-trigger tensions in the strategic kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Clashes have occurred nearly every night since the first round of reconciliation talks ended last month with little progress.

Shiites comprise about 70 percent of Bahrain's 525,000 people, but are blocked from top political and security posts and claim election districts are gerrymandered to prevent a Shiite majority in parliament. At least 32 people have been killed since protests began in February inspired by other Arab uprisings.

The investigating commission _ which began work last month with the consent of the ruling monarchy _ said hundreds of people stormed the commission's office on Monday and threatened staff members after local media reports claimed investigators found no evidence of crimes against humanity by authorities. The commission said the reports are false.

"While the commission's staff is committed to conducting its investigation, it will not jeopardize the security of the individuals who work at the office," said the statement by the commission, which is headed by Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian-born professor of international criminal law and a former member of U.N. human rights panels.

The commission said the office closure was "temporary," but gave no indication when it could reopen. It said it will now conduct interviews with witnesses by prearranged appointments rather than at a central location.

The commission's findings are expected Oct. 30.