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Hunger striker's daughter in custody

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iol news pic Mideast Bahrain protests

AP

File picture: An unidentified Bahraini anti-government protester carries the national flag as she walks by a wall. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

Dubai - Bahrain has remanded in custody for seven days the daughter of a jailed hunger striker for protesting during last week's Formula One Grand Prix, her lawyer said on Tuesday.

Zainab al-Khawaja was arrested on Saturday after she sat on the highway running past Bahrain's financial district during days of Shi'ite protests held to embarrass the kingdom's rulers at a time when the race drew international media attention.

Activists are pressing for democratic reforms in a country dominated by the ruling Al Khalifa family, a Sunni dynasty that rules over a majority Shi'ite Bahraini population.

“They decided yesterday to hold her for seven days for holding up traffic and insulting a public official. She refused to talk in the investigations or to sign papers,” said laywer Mohammed al-Jishi.

The pro-government al-Bilad newspaper cited the prosecution's charge as “aggressing against a woman police officer by force and verbally insulting her”.

Khawaja, a vocal critic who often leads protest marches, was held for several days in February and December, when a YouTube video at the time showed women officers dragging her away by force; but charges were never pressed.

“This time they are being tougher with her,” Jishi said, adding she denied insulting the women officers.

International rights groups have called for the release of her father Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and 13 other protest leaders in jail for their role in the pro-democracy uprising that erupted in February 2011.

An appeals court on Monday delayed the men's case to April 30, prompting Amnesty International to accuse the authorities of playing with Khawaja's life. The government says he is in good health in a military hospital.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally that hosts Washington's Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since the protests began. Though martial law and Saudi troops were brought in to crush them after one month, the strife has continued with regular mass marches by opposition parties and violent clashes with riot police.

Foreign governments, rights groups and media watchdogs have criticised Bahrain for its handling of the protests and the slow pace of reforms.

Following a public relations debacle over the Grand Prix, the government said on Monday it had appointed a new minister of state for information affairs.

Samira Rajab, a Shi'ite Arab nationalist who says the Shi'ite-dominated opposition will open Bahrain to Iranian influence, said she would promote reform and free speech and denied that state media ignores the opposition.

“They are always invited to talk on Bahrain TV but it is they who reject taking part because they want to say that they are being shut out,” Rajab told Reuters, adding she would work with the government's Information Affairs Authority chief. Both have cabinet positions as ministers. - Reuters


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