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Bahraini king praises progress but opponents say abuses continue

March 20, 2012 |  3:59 pm

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The Bahraini king praised his government Tuesday for working hard to make changes since an international commission laid out a long list of abuses committed by the government in its crackdown on protests last year.

The king's critics, however, were unswayed, saying abuses have continued. The United Nations human rights office also weighed in Tuesday, saying it was troubled by allegations that Bahrain continued to use excessive force against demonstrators, including tear gas and rubber bullets.

Rupert Colville,  spokesman for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there were reports from reliable sources that a rising number of protesters and bystanders had died from inhaling tear gas.

The country has been roiled by protests against the Sunni monarch since February 2011, leading to a state crackdown criticized  by rights groups and later laid bare in the commission report, which found that beatings, electrical shock and other heavy-handed tactics were used against protesters.

A committee chosen by the government presented its findings Tuesday on what had happened since. State media reported that police had been retrained, video equipment was being installed in interrogation cells, and the government had dropped charges against hundreds of people, among other moves.

King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa heralded steps taken toward reform and urged the opposition to "do their part to participate and support democratic practices in accordance with the law,” the Associated Press reported.

“The fact that the government was willing to authorize and fund this report … suggests the government is serious about addressing the human rights violations that occurred,” said James Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law professor who recently visited Bahrain to make recommendations to the government.

Activists rejected the report, saying that police brutality, torture and the jailing of political prisoners had continued with little change. One group, Bahrain Watch, derided the report as “self-congratulatory.”

“The fact that not a single high-level government official or security officer has yet been held accountable for any of the ongoing human rights violations is indicative of the government's failure to address the real problems,” founding member Bill Marczak said in a statement Tuesday.

Street battles have continued to rage in Bahrain. While security forces have been condemned by activists for a heavy hand, protesters have also been seen lobbing Molotov cocktails at police.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Riot police arrest a Bahraini youth Tuesday during antigovernment protests in Muqsha, just west of the Bahraini capital of Manama. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press

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