Beyond the United Kingdom -- a royal rundown

King

The United Kingdom isn’t the only kingdom out there. As Queen Elizabeth II is feted this weekend in a Diamond Jubilee marking 60 years on the throne, here are some other monarchs from around the globe and what they've been up to.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej:  The deeply revered 84-year-old king of Thailand has little direct power, but offending him can land Thais in jail. Critics complain that the lese-majeste law -- meaning "injured majesty" -- undercuts free expression. Royalists see the law as an important way to uphold his dignity.

King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz al Saud: The elderly king heads the Sunni Muslim royal family that gives Saudi Arabia its name. His attempts to loosen the religious lock on Saudi life have been crimped by religious fundamentalists. Despite steps toward reform, such as giving women the right to vote, the kingdom has continued to be criticized for human rights abuses under his rule.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia: The Spanish royals have had a difficult year. The king was scolded for going on an elephant hunt. His grandson shot himself in the foot. And his son-in-law was named as a suspect in a corruption case. As the country grapples with economic woes, some Spaniards are asking why they should have a monarch at all.

King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa: For more than a year, the Sunni monarch of Bahrain has been confronted with protests agitating for greater democracy. The ongoing unrest threatened to overshadow the Formula 1 races earlier this year as the king argued that reforms were already underway.

Emperor Akihito: The emperor has no formal political sway, but his imperial role still has symbolic power in Japan. Before the princess gave birth to a boy six years ago, the absence of young male heirs nearly caused a succession crisis and revived debate over whether women should be allowed to take the throne.

Prince Albert: When the Monaco monarch got married last year, his nuptials got an unfortunate nickname -- "the other wedding." Just weeks after Prince William and Kate Middleton tied the knot, Prince Albert II married Charlene Wittstock in the European principality.

King Abdullah II and Queen Rania: The Jordanian monarchs have weathered criticism for extravagance and faced demands to stop corruption, but the protests have been less heated than in other countries rocked by the "Arab Spring."

King Mswati III: The king of Swaziland holds absolute power in this landlocked southern African country and has faced growing anger over financial woes, especially in light of his own extravagance. Earlier this year, Swazi officials said a new law was in the works to punish people who insult the king online.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck: The Bhutan monarch is an Oxford graduate who loves Elvis Presley. He has said his wedding last year will be his only one, a break from the polygamous past of the royal family. (His father wedded four sisters.)

Crown Prince Haakon: Though King Harald V is the reigning monarch in Norway, it was his son who grabbed headlines by marrying a single mother with a wild past more than a decade ago, stirring up talk about whether Norway really wanted such down-to-earth royals.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A man holds up a portrait of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej as thousands of people wait for his arrival for a ceremony in Thung Makham Yong in Ayutthaya province, north of Bangkok, on May 25, 2012. Credit: Christophe Archambault / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images


U.S. resumes some weapons sales to Bahrain

The United States is loosening some of its restrictions on weapons sales to Bahrain, a Persian Gulf ally that has grappled with massive protests pushing for greater democracy.

“We have made the decision to release additional items to Bahrain, mindful of the fact that there are a number of serious unresolved human rights issues that the government of Bahrain needs to address,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday.

But the U.S. move has upset rights activists, who say the country is still attacking and abusing dissidents.

The U.S. froze its weapons sales to Bahrain in October over human rights concerns. Nuland said the U.S. was still withholding antitank missiles and Humvees, along with “certain additional items for the Bahrain Defense Force,” stressing that the newly released items “are not used for crowd control."

The Bahraini crown prince met with U.S. officials this week. Nuland did not specify what would be sold to Bahrain, but Bloomberg News reported that the equipment includes air-to-air missiles and ammunition. 

Bahraini dissidents and rights groups say the government has not done enough to meet the demand for reforms in the island nation, continuing to jail and harass protesters. Government loyalists counter that protesters have hurled Molotov cocktails at police and blame Iran for stirring up trouble.

The unrest has left the United States open to accusations that although it has championed other "Arab Spring" uprisings, it has been less aggressive in backing calls for change in Bahrain, a strategic ally. The nonprofit Human Rights First slammed Friday's announcement.

"Where is the progress that warrants the reward of arms?" its human rights director, Brian Dooley, asked in a statement. "This new sale will only damage U.S. credibility among those working for democracy in Bahrain and across the Middle East.”

Nuland insisted the U.S. was concerned about excessive force by police. “We urge all sides to work together to end the violence and refrain from incitement of any kind, including attacks on peaceful protesters or on the Bahraini police,” she said.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

 


Jailed dissidents in Bahrain granted new trials

Khawaja

A Bahraini activist who has refused food for months and a score of others convicted of plotting against the Persian Gulf state were granted new trials on Monday, meeting a key demand of human rights groups who have argued that their previous military trials were grossly unfair and tainted by torture.

But while the decision offers a glimmer of hope for the jailed activists, it does not mean all the defendants will be freed as they wait for new trials before the Supreme Court of Appeal, according to the official Bahrain News Agency. That news disappointed members of the opposition, who have pushed along with international human rights groups for the inmates' release.

"This ruling is just a step in the right direction, but the street will not calm down until all the prisoners are freed," opposition party official Sayed Hadi Mousawi told Reuters news service.

The best-known defendant is Abdulhadi Khawaja, a human rights activist who has spent more than 80 days on hunger strike to protest the life sentence he was given after agitating against the Sunni monarchy. He and other protesters demanded more democracy and a greater voice for Shiite Muslims.

One of his daughters, Maryam Khawaja, told the Guardian that the retrials were merely a delaying tactic that allowed Bahrain to score political points while keeping her father and other dissidents in jail. As Khawaja has continued his hunger strike, the calls for him to be freed and receive medical treatment have mounted, including from officials in Denmark, where Khawaja has dual citizenship.

While most of the defendants will stay in jail, one was released Monday after his sentence was reduced to time already served, the Associated Press reported.

The unrest in Bahrain began more than a year ago, when an outbreak of protests was met with an aggressive crackdown. Though Bahrain created an independent commission that investigated alleged abuses and found that protesters were tortured, the government hasn't carried out all of the panel's  recommendations. Amnesty International recently issued a report arguing that "piecemeal reforms" were inadequate.

The ruling family alleges that the protests have been stirred up by Iran. Regime loyalists have argued that the government needs to take a firm hand against violent attacks by protesters, who have been seen hurling Molotov cocktails at police.

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Photo: Bahraini Shiite Muslim women rally last week to show their solidarity with Abdulhadi Khawaja, a prisoner who began his hunger strike, in the village of Jidhafs. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images


Bahrain protesters, prince grapple over Formula 1 race [Video]

As Formula 1 drivers practiced for a race in Bahrain on Friday, tens of thousands of protesters poured onto a highway to agitate against the event, heralded by the monarchy as a sign of unity in the island nation.

The decision to hold the race Sunday has angered dissidents and human rights groups who say it props up government claims that all is well, papering over continued abuses.

Though the Manama highway protest rally had been granted a permit by the government, riot police fired stun grenades and tear gas at a breakaway group of protesters who headed to Pearl Roundabout, a heavily guarded area that was the hub of opposition protests last year, the Associated Press reported.

The protests also went digital: The Anonymous hacking group took down a Formula 1-related website on Friday and replaced it with a call to free Abdulhadi Khawaja, a jailed activist who has been on hunger strike for more than two months, and to end torture and stop using tear gas against civilians.

Bahrain has been divided by protests aimed at its Sunni Muslim monarchy for more than a year, as dissidents push for more political freedoms and a greater voice for Shiites. Bahraini authorities have condemned many of the marchers as thugs bent on attacking police with fire bombs and stones. A sweeping crackdown on the first wave of protests last year only added to calls for change.

The automobile race was called off last year because of the unrest, but scheduled as usual this year despite the ongoing protests. Authorities have celebrated the race as a sign that the Persian Gulf nation is "UniF1ed." Crown Prince Salman said Friday that canceling the race would only "empower extremists," while "having the race allows us to build bridges across communities," Reuters reported.

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Clashes continue as Formula 1 CEO calls Bahrain 'peaceful'

Bahrain

Clashes between protesters and police continued in Bahrain on Friday just after the country was deemed safe for a flashy automobile race by the event's chief executive, who insisted that the Persian Gulf nation was quiet and peaceful.

Bahrain has grappled with protests for more than a year as dissidents challenge its Sunni Muslim monarchy. Though the government has taken some steps  toward reform since a blistering commission report condemned police abuses, human rights groups say it has failed to free political prisoners and continued cracking down on protests. One jailed activist has been on a hunger strike for more than two months.

Last year, Formula 1 races were delayed and ultimately canceled because of mass protests. Opposition activists have unsuccessfully called on Formula 1 to cancel its upcoming Grand Prix in the country this year, saying the races shouldn't go on while protests are still raging. Bahraini authorities have promoted the upcoming races as a way to show the country is stable and undivided.

Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone resisted the pressure from activists this week, as the racing group officially announced the Grand Prix would go on next week as scheduled.

"We don't go into a country and interfere with the politics of the country," Ecclestone told CNN. The Associated Press quoted him saying Bahrain was "all very quiet and peaceful," safe for the coming races.

Yet protests erupted again Friday in conjunction with the funeral of videographer Ahmad Ismail, who was reportedly shot two weeks ago while filming a protest outside Manama. Amateur videos purportedly made Friday in Bahrain show large crowds rallying for his funeral and later being tear-gassed by police.

Some protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, the Associated Press reported. In one especially striking video from the Friday funeral, mourners appear to be deluged with tear gas as they try to bury Ismail:

Another video uploaded Friday appears to show police chasing protesters and shooting something at them. Warning: The video, which is not very clear, seems to include some profane language:

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Photo: Police disperse protesters in Salmabad village, south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, on Friday during the funeral of videographer Ahmad Ismail. Credit: Mazen Mahdi / European Pressphoto Agency

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles


Protests rage for Bahrain inmate 58 days on hunger strike [Video]

Bahraini protesters reportedly battled police with water cannons and tear gas on the streets Friday as they demanded the release of an imprisoned activist who has waged a hunger strike for nearly two months.

The plight of Abdulhadi Khawaja has become a rallying point for the protests that have racked the Persian Gulf nation for more than a year, arguing for greater democracy and a larger voice for Shiite Muslims in the Sunni-led kingdom.

Bahraini authorities say reforms are already underway and condemn protesters for attacking police with stones and Molotov cocktails, calling them thugs.

Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the uprising against the government last year. He launched his hunger strike to try to draw attention to continuing human rights abuses in the island nation. A Human Rights Watch official has said Bahrain has made some steps toward reform, yet "hundreds of people remain behind bars solely for speaking out and demanding a change of government."

Several human rights groups inside and outside the country, including Human Rights Watch, have called on Bahrain to release Khawaja and other convicted opposition leaders. Bahrain countered that Human Rights Watch had come to "seemingly rash conclusions" too early in the reform process.

As activists warned that Khawaja's condition was worsening and he could die, his daughter Zainab was arrested Thursday night outside the prison hospital where he was being detained, reportedly crying out for her father. The Bahrain Information Affairs Authority said she was arrested for attacking a public employee.

Bahrain’s most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, warned Friday that the unrest could become uncontrollable if Khawaja dies, the Associated Press reported.

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Video: Purported scenes of Bahraini protesters being confronted with tear gas and water cannons. Credit: YouTube 


Bahrain activists fear for inmate on 55th day of hunger strike

Protest in Bahrain

Bahraini activists fear for the life of a hunger striker who they say has gone without food for 55 days, a perilous attempt to draw attention to human rights abuses in the Persian Gulf nation.

Abdulhadi Khawaja is one of several opposition leaders sentenced to life in prison for taking part in an uprising that began last year against the Sunni Muslim monarchy, the Associated Press reported. Attorneys appealed the convictions of Khawaja and other opposition figures Monday.

In a February letter to Denmark's foreign minister, Khawaja said he had been severely beaten and tortured for months before being charged with trying to overthrow the state. That month he began a hunger strike, intermittently consuming only glucose and water, activists say.

Khawaja was hospitalized last week after his blood sugar plummeted, according to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, where his daughter Maryam works. The group says Khawaja is giving up glucose, because Bahraini officials reportedly cited it as proof that he wasn’t really on a hunger strike.

“Al-Khawaja is at high risk of going into a coma at any time now due to his condition. If not released immediately it could be fatal,” his daughter wrote on Twitter.

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Giving tear gas the boot in Bahrain

Tear gas in Bahrain

Every day on World Now, we choose a striking photo from around the globe. Today we picked this photo from Bahrain, where police fired tear gas at protesters -- and this protester kicked it back.

Tear gas has flooded Bahraini streets as the country has been rocked by protests pushing for more democracy and more influence by Shiite Muslims in the Sunni monarchy. Bahraini loyalists have condemned protesters for lobbing Molotov cocktails and stones at police, violent acts that have been caught on video.

"Police have been using tear gas to create distance between them and gangs of rioters that have been, on a very steady basis, day after day, assaulting police officers with Molotov cocktails and also with bricks, nails and other things," John Timoney, an advisor to Bahraini authorities, told the Voice of America last month.

Opposition activists complain of police abuse and excessive force against demonstrators, including rampant tear gassing. The U.N. human rights office recently said it had credible reports that rising numbers of protesters and bystanders had been killed by inhaling tear gas, and it called for an investigation.

The government created a commission to look into abuses after a crackdown on the protests, which erupted last year. The step was lauded by observers, but activists say the country hasn't followed through on its recommendations and allege that abuses have continued.

The United States has pressed Bahrain to use less force and stop prosecuting protesters, but the situation is politically prickly for Washington, which counts on the Persian Gulf nation as a bulwark against Iran.

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Photo: An antigovernment demonstrator kicks a tear gas canister fired by riot police Friday during clashes in the Shiite village of Sanabis, on the edge of the Bahraini capital, Manama. Credit: Hasan Jamali / Associated Press


Bahraini king praises progress but opponents say abuses continue

Bahrainprotests

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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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


Bahrain, Belarus newly dubbed as 'Internet enemies'

Bahrainwoman

After a tumultuous year of protests and crackdowns, the island nation of Bahrain has been labeled as an “enemy of the Internet” by a nonprofit group that advocates for press freedom.

Reporters Without Borders said Bahrain had smeared free-speech activists, arrested bloggers and harassed human rights activists to create “an effective news blackout.” Earlier this year, Bahrain turned down New York Times columnist Nick Kristof and other reporters seeking to cover the one-year anniversary of protests against the Sunni Muslim monarchy, saying it had received too many requests.

Bahrain was one of a dozen nations of Reporters Without Borders' annual list of "Internet enemies." Others on the list include Iran, which recently announced a new council to oversee the Web as part of its ongoing crackdown on cyberspace, and North Korea, which heavily censors and restricts the Internet.

The turmoil in Bahrain has raged more than a year. Tens of thousands of Bahraini protesters blocked a highway on Friday, demanding greater democracy and the cessation of anti-Shiite discrimination.

One activist is in peril after going on a hunger strike for 32 days inside prison, according to opposition groups. Human Rights Watch has complained that Bahrain has railroaded its opponents in unfair trials.

Bahraini officials say protesters are inciting violence against police and ignoring reforms it has carried out. Government loyalists say they are terrorists carrying out attacks with stones and Molotov cocktails.

Belarus also joined the list after the Internet was blocked, bloggers were arrested and a new law gave the government new control over the Web, the group said in a statement. The country is led by authoritarian 17-year President Alexander Lukashenko.

Belarusian officials have also used the Web to intimidate protesters, Reporters Without Borders wrote. The Interior Ministry used its Twitter account to warn demonstrators against Lukashenko and his regime, "To all persons going to the city square ... you will have to answer for it," the report said.

Besides Bahrain, Belarus, Iran and North Korea, the other countries on the list are Burma, China, Cuba,  Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

While Bahrain and Belarus joined the list, two others were removed: Libya, where longtime leader Moammar Kadafi was overthrown and killed, and Venezuela, where legislation that was earlier feared to limit Internet freedom "has yet to have any damaging effect in practice."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A Bahraini woman holds a sign that says in Arabic "Down with the ruling gang" during a rally for political reforms on March 9, 2012. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images


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