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Amnesty condemns Bahrain crackdown

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March 17, 2011, 4:49 p.m. | World — by Associated Press

A Shiite Bahraini youth holds a piece of wood in the streets of Malkiya, Bahrain, Wednesday, March 16, 2011.
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BRUSSELS (AP) — Amnesty International denounced the crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising in Bahrain on Thursday saying that the royal government was "very clearly trying to suppress any kind of freedom of speech." Meanwhile, both the European Union and NATO urged the authorities to refrain from violence and settle the escalating crisis through political dialogue.

Amnesty called on the international community to pressure the authorities in Bahrain to allow demonstrations and freedom of speech and ensure that basic human rights are not "massively violated."

"The Bahrain government needs to immediately stop any kind of violence and excessive force," Nicolas Beger, Amnesty's EU representative, told the AP in an interview.

Beger said the security forces were using live ammunition against peaceful demonstrators and had occupied the capital's main hospital, effectively preventing those injured in the crackdown from getting medical help. He said medical staff had also been targeted.

"You shoot at them and prevent them from getting help. That is one way of trying to deter other people from participating in demonstrations," he said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also called on the authorities to unblock the hospital, which reportedly has been taken over by the security forces.

Both the EU and NATO appear to have been caught off-guard by events in the tiny kingdom, where the government declared a state of emergency and cracked down on pro-democracy protesters after Saudi and other troops arrived to bolster security.

The three-month emergency rule gives the military wide powers to battle the protests that erupted in mid-February. On Thursday, authorities detained at least six prominent opposition activists. At least a dozen people have died in the protests.

Ashton said she telephoned Bahrain's foreign minister to urge maximum restraint.

"The use of force by security personnel has been continuous," she said, adding there was no alternative to dialogue.

"The government must do all it can to initiate a political process with concrete steps that answers the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Bahrainis. This is the only way forward," Ashton said.

In response to a question on the crisis in Bahrain, NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance was following latest developments with great concern.

"We call for an open and inclusive political dialogue as the only way to address people's legitimate aspirations for democratic changes," Romero said.

Bahrain, along with Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, is part of a NATO outreach program in the Middle East.
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