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BAHRAIN: Exiled opposition leader to return Tuesday

February 21, 2011 | 11:41 am

Bahrain A prominent opposition figure who went into exile after being accused of plotting against the state plans to return from London on Tuesday, an aide told the Associated Press, in a move that could bolster anti-government protesters.

Hassan Meshaima, head of the opposition group known as Haq, is scheduled to arrive late Tuesday as the embattled monarchy in Bahrain tries to engage demonstrators in talks aimed at easing the weeklong series of clashes that have deeply divided the Persian Gulf nation.

A rights activist and supporter, Abbas Omran, confirmed Meshaima's plans to the Associated Press on Monday, but gave no indication of the opposition leader's objectives once he returns after eight months in self-exile.

Meshaima is considered a potential enemy of the state. He and another London-based opposition leader are being tried in absentia along with 25 Shiite activists accused of plotting to overthrow Bahrain's Sunni rulers.

But taking Meshaima into custody risks an angry backlash from protesters, whose uprising forced Formula One organizers to call off next month's Bahrain Grand Prix in a stinging blow to the government's efforts to court top international sporting events.

Meshaima has been in London since June, reportedly receiving treatment for cancer. His group is considered more radical than the main Shiite political bloc, Al Wefaq, which has so far taken a leading role in the uprising.

Hundreds of protesters spent the night in Pearl Square -- which has become Manama's version of Cairo's Tahrir Square -- and thousands of government opponents gathered at the site during the day, according to the Associated Press. The mood was upbeat, and many appear to be camped there for the long haul, with makeshift kitchens serving meals to those who live in the small tent village.

--  Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: A Bahraini anti-government protester holds an Arabic sign saying, "The nation wants to bring down the regime" during a demonstration at Pearl Square in Manama on Monday. Credit: Joseph Eid / AFP/Getty Images