Bahrain fends off charge of pressing crackdown

AFP , Thursday 24 Mar 2011

Bahraini authorities justify crackdown on Salmaniya hospital by claims it was used as a regrouping center for protesters, slammed rights groups for interfering

Anti-government protesters run from tear gas fired by riot police backed by soldiers Wednesday, (AP).

Amnesty International on Thursday accused Bahrain of pressing on with a crackdown against Shiite activists and doctors, as Manama tried to fend off charges of foreign meddling in its affairs.

"A crackdown on Shiite opposition activists and doctors continues in Bahrain, with six more people detained in the past few days," said the London-based rights watchdog.

"Amnesty International believes that they have been detained solely for their criticism of and involvement in the protests and that therefore they are prisoners of conscience," Amnesty said in a statement.

But the Sunni-ruled kingdom responded by slamming what it said was foreign interference and charged that outside forces had hijacked the pro-reform demands of demonstrators.

"Bahrain condemns external interference in its domestic matters," said a government spokeswoman, Maysoon Sakba.

"Recent calls for reform by sections of the Bahraini people were hijacked by an extreme agenda, resulting in an escalation of more violent methods, leading to a fundamental breakdown in law and order," she said in a statement.

Sakba said a March 16 raid on Salmaniya Medical Complex following violent clashes in Manama was aimed at restoring order after the medical staff had turned the hospital into a base for regrouping demonstrators.

"Salmaniya was effectively being used as a coordination centre by protesters and had been overrun by political and sectarian activity," the spokeswoman said.

"This included the spreading of malicious propaganda by several senior members of the medical staff and the blocking of medical care, severely interrupting service and endangering lives," said Sakba.

Salmaniya is Bahrain's largest public sector hospital and has been the focus of conflicting reports of abuse.

Bahraini authorities contend its Shiite staff had turned the complex into a protest centre, while the international community has denounced the storming of the health facility by security forces.

Over the past week, a tense calm has returned to Manama, where clashes between security forces and protesters since February 14 have killed at least 15 people, most of them demonstrators.

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