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Middle East and Nort Africa (MENA) News: Curfew follows deadly Bahrain crackdown

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  • Zafar Khan
    Curfew follows deadly Bahrain crackdown Curfew enforced, several dead and hundreds injured as security forces use tanks and helicopters to quash protests. Last
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2011
      Curfew follows deadly Bahrain crackdown
      Curfew enforced, several dead and hundreds injured as security forces use tanks and helicopters to quash protests.
      Last Modified: 16 Mar 2011 13:25


      At least six people are reported dead and hundreds injured after security forces in Bahrain drove out pro-democracy protesters from the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama.

      A 12-hour curfew came into force at 4pm in areas of the city including the Pearl Roundabout, the Bahrain Financial Harbour, and several other buildings which have recently been targets of protests.

      By then, most of the area had been cleared after troops backed by tanks and helicopters stormed the site - the focal point of weeks-long anti-government protests in the tiny kingdom - early on Wednesday, an Al Jazeera correspondent said.

      Multiple explosions were heard and smoke was seen billowing over central Manama.

      Hospital sources said three protesters had been killed and hundreds of others injured in the offensive, the Reuters news agency reported. Three policemen were also reported dead.

      Our correspondent said the police backed by the military attacked the protesters from all sides and used tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd.

      Protesters, intimidated by the numbers of security forces, retreated from the roundabout, he said. By 5pm the area was quiet, although a few people remained on the streets. A helicopter circled overhead.

      Doctors and witnesses at the city's main Salmaniya hospital have told Al Jazeera that they have been "besieged" by security forces.

      "We are besieged here since the morning. No one can get in or out of the hospital as a result of the conflict at the Roundabout. Bahraini army, police and Saudi security are using tanks to prevent people from entering. There are also other forces I cannot identify in civilian clothing ... There is a large number of injured, over 400 people, including women and children," Abdul Mohamed, an eyewitness, told Al Jazeera.

      Dr Nehad Shirawi, the head of the intensive care unit at the hospital told Al Jazeera via telephone: "We are scared to get out of the hospital. We don't think its safe to go out and we don't know what to do ... We are phyiscally and mentally exhausted and I don't think we'll be able to continue to attend to patients in this way. We need to be replaced by other doctors so we can go home and rest."

      Bahrain's youth movement had called for a mass demonstration on Wednesday afternoon but it was unclear whether protesters planned to regroup elsewhere in the city.

      Bahrain's main opposition Wefaq party has called off protests, saying it is too dangerous to continue. There are fears that a small gathering could result in a high level of casualties, our correspondent said.

      Wefaq has advised people since this morning to avoid confrontation with security forces and to remain peaceful," a Wefaq official told Reuters.

      Ali Al Aswad, a Wafaq member, told Al Jazeera that the government used Apache helicopters to shoot at peaceful protesters.

      He said the situation was very bad and Bahrain was heading towards a disaster. "The security forces are killing the people, we call upon UN to help us," Aswad said.

      Live Blog: Bahrain crackdown


      Gaddafi tells West to stay out of Libya
      Leader dismisses rebels as "rats" and urges supporters to confront a possible invasion of country for its oil.
      Last Modified: 16 Mar 2011 04:48


      Muammar Gaddafi has denounced backers of plans for a no-fly zone over his country and urged Libyans to take up arms and prepare to confront a possible invasion by Western powers.

      Addressing selected supporters late on Tuesday, Gaddafi called the rebels "rats" and denounced Western nations. "They want Libyan oil," he said.

      "France now raises its head and says that it will strike Libya," Gaddafi told the gathering at his Bab al-Azizia fortified compound in central Tripoli.

      "Strike Libya?" he asked. "We'll be the one who strikes you! We struck you in Algeria, in Vietnam. You want to strike us? Come and give it a try."

      His speech came as world powers wrangled over a draft resolution on imposing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gaddafi's advancing forces from using their air superiority to take the rebel capital, Benghazi, in the east.

      The draft was distributed by Britain and Lebanon at a closed-door UN security Council meeting, on Tuesday, after the Arab League called on Saturday for the Council to set up the no-fly zone.

      Nawaf Salam, Lebanese ambassador and Arab League representative, said a no-fly zone would not qualify as foreign intervention in Libya.

      However, the military action faced resistance from other nations, including Russia and China.

      "Some members have questions and they need clarifications before a decision is made," Li Baodong, China's ambassador, told reporters. But he added: "We are very concerned about the deteriorating situation in Libya".

      Protesters stage rare demo in Syria
      Protesters in Damascus call for freedom in rare display of dissent against Bashar al-Assad's Baathist regime.
      Last Modified: 15 Mar 2011 19:44


      Protesters have demonstrated in Damascus, the Syrian capital, in a rare show of dissent against the country's hardline regime.

      Witnesses said 40 to 50 people gathered after midday prayers on Tuesday in the Al Hamidiya area near the city's Umayyad Mosque.

      A YouTube video showed protesters clapping and chanting "God, Syria, freedom -- that's enough", and "Peaceful, peaceful", a chant heard elsewhere in weeks of protests that have swept through the Arab world.

      A voice in the background says: "The date is (March) 15 ... This is the first obvious uprising against the Syrian regime ... Alawite or Sunni, all kinds of Syrians, we want to bring down the regime".

      The protest was quickly broken up by government supporters, the AP news agency reported.

      Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father as president in 2000, has said there is no chance of unrest elsewhere in the region spreading to Syria. The country has been ruled by al-Assad's Baath Party since 1963.

      The regime is considered one of the most repressive in the Middle East with political opposition locked up and media tightly controlled.

      New York-based Human Rights Watch has said Syria's authorities were among the worst violators of human rights in 2010, jailing lawyers, torturing opponents and using violence to repress ethnic Kurds.

      Earlier this month the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 political prisoners had gone on hunger strike to protest against "political detentions and oppression" in their country.

      One of the prisoners, 80-year-old former judge Haitham al-Maleh, was later released under an amnesty marking the anniversary of the 1963 coup which brought the Baath party to power.

      Officials say political prisoners in Syria have violated the constitution and that outside criticism of the state's human rights record is interference in Syria's affairs.

      Bahrain imposes state of emergency
      Two killed and many wounded in violent clashes as king authorises "all necessary measures to protect safety of country".
      Last Modified: 15 Mar 2011 22:03 GMT


      Fierce clashes in Yemen capital
      More violence as security forces crack down on anti-government protesters in Sanaa.
      Last Modified: 14 Mar 2011 12:01 GMT


      Two more people have been killed and scores injured in the latest anti-government protests in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, bringing the number of deaths to more than 30 in just two months.

      According to medical sources, the latest violence erupted when police fired live rounds and tear gas.

      Claims that riot police are using excessive force and prohibited nerve gas have been denied by General Yahya Saleh, the head of the Yemeni security forces.

      Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reports from a makeshift clinic set up by protesters near University Square, the scene of ongoing protests.

      Saudi soldiers sent into Bahrain
      Saudi troops and police from UAE deployed to Gulf neighbour to help protect government facilities after weeks of unrest.
      Last Modified: 15 Mar 2011 04:05 GMT


      Bahrain riot police fire tear gas at protesters
      Sunday, 13 March 2011


      Bahrain riot police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets at an anti-government protest camp in the capital, eyewitnesses claimed today.

      Demonstrators who blocked roads into the main financial district were also said to have faced similar measures.

      Today's morning police operation was the largest effort to clear the protesters from Pearl Square in the capital, Manama, since the Shia demonstrations, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, started in mid-February.

      Mostly Shia protesters are demanding greater political freedoms and want the Sunni monarchy to give up its monopoly on power in the strategically important Gulf nation, the home of the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

      Today, the protesters blocked a main highway leading to Bahrain's main financial district in downtown Manama, causing huge traffic chaos during morning rush hour.

      Today is the first working day of the week in the Arab world.

      Traffic was stalled for miles and police fired tear gas and used heavy vehicles to try to move the protesters and dismantle the barriers they had set up.

      Eyewitnesses at Pearl Square said security forces also surrounded the protests' tent compound, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the activists.

      Protesters showed an Associated Press photographer rubber bullets apparently fired today. Activists tried to stand their ground and chanted: "Peaceful, peaceful."

      Bahrain's government said that security forces are conducting "operations to reopen the King Faisal Highway." Police dispersed about 350 protesters "by using tear gas," the government said.

      The statement did not mention police activity at Pearl Square.

      Four people were killed at Pearl Square last month when security forces stormed it just days after the protesters set it up. Three other people were killed at protests aimed at reclaiming the square.

      Gaddafi's army will kill half a million, warn Libyan rebels
      Rebels flee Ras Lanuf and call on UN to impose no-fly zone as Gaddafi's forces recapture strategically important towns


      Footage shows crackdown in Bahrain
      YouTube clip appears to show man shot in chest with tear gas canister as police also use rubber bullets on protesters.


      Egypt opens up political space
      Military rulers move to scrap law that gave ex-president Mubarak virtual veto over establishment of political parties.
      Last Modified: 13 Mar 2011 09:36 GMT


      Revolt lingers in central Tunisia
      Rebellion in Gafsa was brutally repressed, but served as forewarning of latest uprising.
      Last Modified: 11 Mar 2011 06:56 GMT


      The 2008 rebellion in Tunisia's phosphate-rich Gafsa region was a warning of the uprising that eventually toppled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's government.

      The earlier revolt in Gafsa, a town in the centre of the country, was brutally crushed by police, and news of what happened faced tough censorship. But even after the Tunisian uprising, many in Gafsa feel removed from events.

      Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri reports that little in their lives has changed, and rebellion still hangs in the air.

      Clashes erupt in South Sudan
      Casualties reported as rebel militia launches a pre-dawn attack on capital of south Sudan's oil-rich Upper Nile state.
      Last Modified: 12 Mar 2011 08:10 GMT


      Protests against attacks on Copts
      Egyptians demonstrate against the spike of attacks against minority coptic Christians.
      Last Modified: 12 Mar 2011 05:10 GMT


      Bahrain: Fighting for change
      As unrest sweeps through the Middle East, People & Power looks at the mounting pressure for reform in Bahrain.
      People & Power Last Modified: 09 Mar 2011 09:29


      A world away from Manama
      Bahrain's impoverished villages see little benefit from billions of dollars being invested in the glimmering capital.
      Gregg Carlstrom Last Modified: 10 Mar 2011 15:36 GMT


      Injuries as protests hit Saudi city
      Interior ministry says police opened fire after protesters attacked a police officer in the oil-rich city of Qatif.
      Last Modified: 11 Mar 2011 08:32 GMT


      At least three people have been injured after police in Saudi Arabia fired in the air to disperse protesters in the eastern oil-rich city of Qatif.

      The injuries came on the eve of a so-called "Day of Rage" planned in the country for Friday.

      Mansur al-Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi interior ministry, said shots were fired on Thursday over the heads of the protesters after they attacked a police officer who was documenting the protest.

      Around 600-800 protesters, all Shia and including women, took to the streets of Qatif to demand the release of nine Shia prisoners, said a witness, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisal.

      Qatif has a large Shia community although Saudi Arabia is a Sunni-dominated kingdom.

      The shooting continued for about 10 minutes and around 200 policemen were present, the witness said.

      "As the procession in the heart of the city was about to finish, soldiers started shooting at the protesters, and three of them were wounded," the witness added.

      But the interior ministry spokesman insisted police fired live rounds in the air after shots were fired from among the protesters.

      "A number of people from within the crowd fired live ammunition. I don't know where they fired and how they fired," al-Turki said.

      The ministry said later two protesters - one wounded in the hand; the other in the leg - received hospital treatment for gunshot wounds.

      "We have launched an investigation. We investigate what type of guns are used and what bullets," said the spokesman.

      Heavy police deployment

      The incident came after calls on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter urged people to take part in protests.

      Reports said more than 30,000 heeded the call and in Riyadh, the capital, police boosted their presence, parking vehicles with their lights flashing at major junctions and patrolling the roads.

      Friday protests have been planned in other Gulf countries including Yemen, Kuwait and Bahrain. The time after Friday prayers has proved to be crucial in popular uprisings that have brought down Tunisian and Egyptian rulers who once seemed invulnerable.

      In Washington, the United States reiterated its support for the right to peaceful assembly and said it would closely monitor unrest in Saudi Arabia and restated its support for universal values.

      "We will of course continue to monitor closely this particular situation," said Ben Rhodes, a senior foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, the US president.

      Last month, the ultraconservative Saudi government, fearing Tunisia and Egypt-style uprisings would reach its soil, unveiled unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36bn that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness.

      At the same time, it reiterated that demonstrations are forbidden in the kingdom because they contradict Islamic laws and society's values and said security forces were authorised to act against anyone violating the ban.

      'New constitution for Yemen'
      President Saleh pledges to hold referendum on new constitution within a year but protesters say offer comes "too late".
      Last Modified: 10 Mar 2011 14:52 GMT


      ElBaradei 'to run' for president
      Nobel laureate says he will run for president and urges for a new real democratic system in Egypt.
      Last Modified: 10 Mar 2011 00:40 GMT


      Tunisia dissolves Ben Ali party
      Tunis court announces the end of the Rally for Constitutional Democracy in accordance with demands from protesters.
      Last Modified: 09 Mar 2011 09:24 GMT


      Gaddafi deploys tanks and hundreds of troops in all-out effort to take Zawiyah
      Witnesses tell of women and children being killed in huge assault on refinery town held by rebels for past two weeks


      Fear of intolerance grows in Iraq
      As authorities adopt stricter version of Islam, culture of tolerance is under threat.
      Last Modified: 09 Mar 2011 10:34 GMT


      As change sweeps the Middle East, there are fears of a new crackdown in Iraq.

      After anti-government demonstrations last week, security forces beat and arrested hundreds of protesters. Although officials have since apologised, but protesters fear that further repressive measures may be on the way.

      Al Jazeera's Jane Arraf reports from Baghdad.

      In Libya, the revolution will be tribalized
      BENGHAZI, LIBYA— From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
      Published Monday, Mar. 07, 2011 10:43PM EST
      Last updated Tuesday, Mar. 08, 2011 2:26PM EST


      Through much of his bloody history, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has played tribes against each other, even instigating small tribal wars within his own borders as a way of punishing rebels.

      Now, the rivalries he has unleashed within Libyan society have resulted in a worrying pattern in the growing conflict: tribes that supplied significant manpower to the elite security forces have proven reluctant to join the revolution, and several towns dominated by those tribes remain controlled by Col. Gadhafi. As rebel forces advance, they risk transforming their uprising into a war between large groups of Libyans.

      “I'm really afraid of this,” said Khalil Ali Al-Musmari, a retired professor of anthropology and sociology in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. “We should not be tribes in this revolution. It's better to say this is the peoples' revolution, not the tribes', because that could create dissent among the tribes.”

      Like many others here, Mr. Al-Musmari said the foreign media have often crudely misrepresented the nature of tribal power in the country, by talking about tribal leaders as though they still commanded the same obedience they did in ancient times. Unlike the tribesmen from less-developed countries, he said, the educated Libyans in coastal cities make their own political decisions and do not feel obligated to follow their tribal elders. The revolution has split some major tribes, as loyalists fight their own blood relatives among the rebels.

      But in the desert outposts where skirmishing threatens to evolve into a full-blown civil war, tribes remain a factor for Libyans when selecting a wife or a business partner – and the tribes now seem to play an important role as rural villagers decide who to fight.

      “Gadhafi sowed dissention and hostility among the tribes,” said Mohammed Omar Mukhtar, the 90-year-old leader of the Imnifa tribe. “He relies mainly on three tribes, although many people from those three are not loyal to him.”

      Mr. Mukhtar said that three major groups – the Warfalla, Tarhunah, and Migarha – supplied many of the recruits for Col. Gadhafi's most loyal security forces. The dictator's own namesake tribe, the Qadhadfa, is relatively small, so he frequently relied on young men from the other three tribes in the desert towns hundreds of kilometres south of Tripoli. Those remote towns, such as Sabha, have emerged as crucial enclaves of support for the regime and staging grounds for attacks on revolutionary forces.

      The elderly tribal leader hastened to point out that members of those three tribes are also represented among the leaders of the revolution, and many have disavowed any links with Col. Gadhafi. The retired professor emphasized similar points, making it clear that talk of tribal divisions in the country is dangerous.

      “Now, all the journalists are asking if the Warfalla tribe will join the regime or the revolution. But the answer is: both,” Mr. Al-Musmari said.

      If the tribal system creates a threat of broader war in Libya, it also holds out the prospect of peaceful solutions. Mr. Mukhtar's father, Omar Mukhtar, became a revered national hero – nicknamed “Lion of the Desert” – for uniting the tribes against colonial occupation by forces under Benito Mussolini. (The actor Anthony Quinn played Mr. Mukhtar in the movie version.) The hero's son says he still believes the tribes will come together again, in resistance to Col. Gadhafi, with patient negotiations among tribal leaders.

      Even as rebel forces continue battling west along the main coastal highway toward the Gadhafi stronghold of Surt, Mr. Mukhtar said that rebel leaders in Benghazi are reaching out to the city's tribal leaders. A large group of Qadhadfa tribesmen are concentrated west of the city and remain mostly loyal to the regime, but some rebels are hoping that the other major tribes in the city, Firjan and Miadan, can be persuaded to join the revolt.

      “We want to take Surt peacefully; it's ongoing,” Mr. Mukhtar said, declining to elaborate.

      It can be hard for outsiders to gauge the influence of tribal elders such as Mr. Mukhtar, so frail in his old age that it's difficult for him to move from the cushioned bench in his home. But his legendary father still inspires many youth in Benghazi; the spray-painted slogan on the burned shell of a government building reads: “Omar Mukhtar said WE DIE OR WIN.”

      Col. Gadhafi apparently feared the dead hero's influence, removing a shrine in his honour from a central roundabout in the city. Nothing remains of the marble arches, inlaid with precious stones, except a weedy vacant lot – and a flagpole, now fluttering with colours of the new revolution.

      Yemeni army wounds 98 students in efforts to end university protest


      Youth groups to protest in Kuwait
      Protesters urging the prime minister to step down plan to hold unauthorised action in oil-rich Gulf state.
      Last Modified: 08 Mar 2011 11:03 GMT


      Youth groups in Kuwait are planning to hold demonstrations calling for the resignation of the prime minister, and for greater political freedoms.

      A group called the Fifth Fence has urged followers on the social networking site Twitter to take to the streets on Tuesday as parliament holds its first session in six weeks.

      They are urging Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the prime minister, to step down, after five years in power.

      The al-Sabah family has ruled the small Gulf state for more than 250 years, and political parties are banned.

      "The first step toward reform is forming a new government under a new prime minister that should be capable of running the country and reforming imbalances," the nationalist Popular Action Bloc said in a statement last week.

      However demonstrations are banned in Kuwait without prior approval, which has not been gained for Tuesday's action.

      The demonstration comes as protests across the Middle East and Arab states continue.

      Kuwait has already seen some protests from stateless Arabs, known as bidoon, who are demanding citizenship.

      Politicians have promised to discuss a draft law in parliament on Tuesday that would grant them basic civil rights

      Allawi: Iraq power sharing a myth
      Leader of cross-sectarian Iraqiya bloc tells Al Jazeera why he turned down position as head of national council.


      The Middle East feminist revolution
      Women are not merely joining protests to topple dictators, they are at the centre of demanding social change.
      Naomi Wolf Last Modified: 04 Mar 2011 17:23 GMT


      Among the most prevalent Western stereotypes about Muslim countries are those concerning Muslim women: doe-eyed, veiled, and submissive, exotically silent, gauzy inhabitants of imagined harems, closeted behind rigid gender roles. So where were these women in Tunisia and Egypt?

      In both countries, women protesters were nothing like the Western stereotype: they were front and centre, in news clips and on Facebook forums, and even in the leadership. In Egypt's Tahrir Square, women volunteers, some accompanied by children, worked steadily to support the protests – helping with security, communications, and shelter. Many commentators credited the great numbers of women and children with the remarkable overall peacefulness of the protesters in the face of grave provocations.

      Other citizen reporters in Tahrir Square – and virtually anyone with a cell phone could become one – noted that the masses of women involved in the protests were demographically inclusive. Many wore headscarves and other signs of religious conservatism, while others reveled in the freedom to kiss a friend or smoke a cigarette in public.

      Supporters, leaders

      But women were not serving only as support workers, the habitual role to which they are relegated in protest movements, from those of the 1960s to the recent student riots in the United Kingdom. Egyptian women also organised, strategised, and reported the events. Bloggers such as Leil Zahra Mortada took grave risks to keep the world informed daily of the scene in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

      The role of women in the great upheaval in the Middle East has been woefully under-analysed. Women in Egypt did not just "join" the protests – they were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable. And what is true for Egypt is true, to a greater and lesser extent, throughout the Arab world. When women change, everything changes - and women in the Muslim world are changing radically.

      The greatest shift is educational. Two generations ago, only a small minority of the daughters of the elite received a university education. Today, women account for more than half of the students at Egyptian universities. They are being trained to use power in ways that their grandmothers could scarcely have imagined: publishing newspapers - as Sanaa el Seif did, in defiance of a government order to cease operating; campaigning for student leadership posts; fundraising for student organisations; and running meetings.

      Indeed, a substantial minority of young women in Egypt and other Arab countries have now spent their formative years thinking critically in mixed-gender environments, and even publicly challenging male professors in the classroom. It is far easier to tyrannise a population when half are poorly educated and trained to be submissive. But, as Westerners should know from their own historical experience, once you educate women, democratic agitation is likely to accompany the massive cultural shift that follows.

      The nature of social media, too, has helped turn women into protest leaders. Having taught leadership skills to women for more than a decade, I know how difficult it is to get them to stand up and speak out in a hierarchical organisational structure. Likewise, women tend to avoid the figurehead status that traditional protest has in the past imposed on certain activists – almost invariably a hotheaded young man with a megaphone.

      Projection of power

      In such contexts – with a stage, a spotlight, and a spokesperson – women often shy away from leadership roles. But social media, through the very nature of the technology, have changed what leadership looks and feels like today. Facebook mimics the way many women choose to experience social reality, with connections between people just as important as individual dominance or control, if not more so.

      You can be a powerful leader on Facebook just by creating a really big "us". Or you can stay the same size, conceptually, as everyone else on your page – you don't have to assert your dominance or authority. The structure of Facebook's interface creates what brick-and-mortar institutions - despite 30 years of feminist pressure - have failed to provide: a context in which women's ability to forge a powerful "us" and engage in a leadership of service can advance the cause of freedom and justice worldwide.

      Of course, Facebook cannot reduce the risks of protest. But, however violent the immediate future in the Middle East may be, the historical record of what happens when educated women participate in freedom movements suggests that those in the region who would like to maintain iron-fisted rule are finished.

      Just when France began its rebellion in 1789, Mary Wollstonecraft, who had been caught up in witnessing it, wrote her manifesto for women's liberation. After educated women in America helped fight for the abolition of slavery, they put female suffrage on the agenda. After they were told in the 1960s that "the position of women in the movement is prone", they generated "second wave" feminism – a movement born of women's new skills and old frustrations.

      Time and again, once women have fought the other battles for the freedom of their day, they have moved on to advocate for their own rights. And, since feminism is simply a logical extension of democracy, the Middle East's despots are facing a situation in which it will be almost impossible to force these awakened women to stop their fight for freedom – their own and that of their communities.

      Naomi Wolf is a political activist and social critic whose most recent book is Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.

      This article was first published by Project Syndicate.

      Egyptians demand secret police give up torture secrets


      Amnesty: Qatari blogger detained
      Human rights group says Sultan al-Khalaifi has been held incommunicado in Qatar since March 2 and risks being tortured.
      Last Modified: 05 Mar 2011 18:31 GMT


      Amnesty International says a blogger and human rights activist has been detained incommunicado in Qatar and is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

      The UK-based human rights group said Sultan al-Khalaifi was arrested on March 2 by around eight individuals in plain clothes, believed to be members of the security forces.

      According to information received by Amnesty International, al-Khalaifi had told his wife earlier that day that state security had contacted him, asking him to report to them, but that he did not know why.

      The reasons for his detentions and his whereabouts are unknown, Amnesty said in a statement on Friday, adding that it is believed he is being held in the custody of state security.

      Amnesty said al-Khalaifi is the founder of a rights group which campaigns primarily on cases of detention in Qatar, but is legally registered in Switzerland.

      In the latest entry available on his blog, al- Khalaifi makes critical comments about book censorship in Qatar.

      Speaking to Al Jazeera, Najib al-Nuaimi, al-Khalaifi's lawyer, said: "This gentleman is Sultan al-Khalaifi, he is being detained with three others.

      "It's just for expressing his own opinion, it must be, because [he] was detained three, four, or ten times already by special security and he's still insisting in his own opinion.

      "I think the mistake here is that there is a law, which I call a criminal law, if I can say.

      "The law itself is criminal, because it allows the minister of interior to detain anyone, anywhere, for six months, extendable for another six months, without a trial, without any lawyer, it's up to him."‎

      The Qatari government could not be contacted for comment.

      Egypt's women plan mass march against military rulers
      By Alastair Beach in Cairo

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