June 8, 2011 in Nation/World

Bahrain urged to ease up

Paul Richter Tribune Washington bureau

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama pressed Bahrain’s crown prince to ease the Persian Gulf state’s brutal crackdown on its political opposition and urged him to “hold accountable” those responsible for human rights abuses against unarmed demonstrators.

In an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Obama welcomed the kingdom’s decision to lift emergency security measures that were imposed to quell the protests, as well as its announcement that the government and its opponents would begin talks on political reform, the White House said in a statement.

U.S. officials have been urging Bahrain for weeks to ease the crackdown, which has relied on troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Bahrainis have been arrested since mid-March, and many were beaten or tortured.

U.S. officials are worried that the rough treatment of the Shiite-dominated protesters by the Sunni regime could set off sectarian strife in the region. The Bahrain regime’s tough measures are also embarrassing for the Obama administration because the president has professed support for the uprisings that have swept the Arab world.

Bahrain officials, who fear the growing instability will undermine their economy, are eager for signs of U.S. support.

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