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Bahrain admits 'excessive force' used on opposition protesters

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:14 AM EST, Mon November 21, 2011
Bahraini Shiite mourners chant slogans during the funeral of a man killed during anti-government demonstrators in March.
Bahraini Shiite mourners chant slogans during the funeral of a man killed during anti-government demonstrators in March.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bahrain government releases findings of an investigation into police mistreatment
  • The report comes two days before an independent inquiry will release its findings
  • Legal action has been initiated against 20 police officers so far, government says
  • The acknowledgment of mistreatment is a reversal in stance for Bahrain

(CNN) -- The Bahrain government admitted Monday to the use of "excessive force" against opposition protesters this year days before an independent commission set up by King Hamad al-Khalifa is due to present its findings on police actions.

Legal action has been initiated against 20 police officers involved in the mistreatment, a government statement said.

"This is in no way the limit of the steps that will be taken," the statement said.

Protests demanding political reform and greater freedoms in Sunni-ruled, Shiite-majority Bahrain began February 14 before authorities -- backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- cracked down on the demonstrations, first in February and later in mid-March.

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More than 30 people have been killed during the protests. Opposition groups say more than 1,000 people -- mainly Shiites -- have been detained and more than 2,000 have lost their jobs for allegedly taking part in the demonstrations.

Monday's statement represents a reversal in the stance of the government, which has previously defended its actions, saying it was justified and needed to maintain public security in the tiny but strategically critical nation that is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.

The nation's king has set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the events -- and consequences -- from earlier this year. Its report is set to be released Wednesday.

"All the while BICI has carried out its work, the government has carried out its own assessments and conducted its own investigations. These investigations have revealed things to praise as well as things to deplore," the government statement said. "Regrettably, there have been instances of excessive force and mistreatment of detainees. This was in violation of government policy."

Ahead of the commission's release, the government said it has begun to take steps "to address and remedy injustice within our society." Among them are two sets of amendments to current laws, including making all forms of torture criminal and the establishment of an independent human rights division.

Also Monday, Amnesty International called on Bahrain to take action action on the commission's inquiry.

"Allowing this independent inquiry into the Manama protests and their aftermath was a very welcome move, but the whole exercise will have been meaningless if the report's recommendations are not translated into real action to redress abuses," the human rights group said.

The government statement Monday comes two days after clashes broke out across the country between security forces and opposition demonstrators after the funeral for a teenage boy who was struck and killed by a police car Saturday.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing a police car run over Ali Al-Badah, a 16-year-old who was participating in an overnight protest in Juffair, a suburb of the capital, Manama. At least one other protester was also injured.

The Interior Ministry disputed opposition claims that police purposely drove the car into a crowd of protesters, saying the anti-riot police unit was ambushed by demonstrators and lost control after driving on an oil slick spilled by the opposition.

Al-Badah's funeral attracted thousands despite police attempts to seal off the village where it was held.

Clashes following the funeral quickly spread to other parts of the country amid reports of a heavy-handed police response. In one instance, security forces targeted a Shiite mosque, leaving parts of it damaged, according to the Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq. The group said that security forces had injured scores of people on Friday and Saturday.

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