MANAMA, Bahrain — Empowered by a six-week-old state of emergency, the Sunni minority government of Bahrain has arrested scores of Shiite women teachers and schoolgirls, held them for days in prison and subjected them to physical and verbal abuse, according to victims, human rights advocates and a former member of parliament.
In the fast-expanding systematic mistreatment of Shiites here, some observers say the red line will be the sexual abuse of women detainees, a step that if taken could provoke violence between the Muslim sects. The security forces appear to be at the brink of crossing it.
At least 150 women have been arrested, and at least 17 remain in custody, according to al-Wefaq, the moderate Shiite political organization that had 18 of its members elected to the 40-member parliament. They quit, however, to protest the current crackdown.
Meanwhile, Bahrain's king set a fast-track timetable to end martial law-style rule in a bid to display confidence that authorities have smothered a pro-reform uprising, even as rights groups denounce the measures. The announcement to lift emergency rule two weeks early on June 1 came hours after the start of a closed-door trial accusing activists of plotting to overthrow the gulf state's rulers.
Security forces backed by army units opened fire on protesters demanding the ouster of longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh, killing three. In all, tens of thousands of protesters mobilized in several cities and towns, the latest installment of almost three months of daily protests. One protester was killed in the western port of Hodeida, and two in the southern city of Taiz when elite Republican Guard forces tried to disperse protesters by firing in the air.
Thousands demanded political reforms in this Muslim kingdom during an antiviolence march in Marrakech, where 17 people died in a cafe bombing last month. Sunday's march was the latest by the February 20 movement that regularly mounts pro-democracy protests. This time, they also spoke out against terrorism after the April 28 bombing at the Argana cafe. Authorities have arrested three suspects and said the leader had loyalties to al-Qaida. King Mohamed VI has promised reforms to keep Morocco from succumbing to uprisings that have swept the Arab world.
Food and fuel supplies are running low in the besieged western Libyan city of Misrata, where government shelling and rocket strikes on the port have slowed humanitarian deliveries. The city has supplies of "basic foodstuffs" that might last about a month, and fuel was likely to be on hand for another two to three weeks, Saddoun Misurati, an opposition spokesman, told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi, the de facto rebel capital. Misrata has been under siege by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi for almost two months. Its struggle has become emblematic of the revolt that has sought to oust Gadhafi after more than 40 years in power.
Information from the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times was used in this report.