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Bahrain king closes cases on Shia leaders accused of plot

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Inside Bahrain protests
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The decision means a self-exiled opposition leader won't be arrested when he returns Tuesday
  • "I know that thousands will be waiting for me," says Mushaimaa
  • Bahrain had requested Interpol to help in arresting Mushaimaa in September
  • Bahrain postpones Formula 1 race because of protests

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Manama, Bahrain (CNN) -- Bahrain's king ordered the release of a number of prisoners and closed cases against several Shia leaders accused of plotting against the kingdom, the country's state news agency said early Tuesday.

King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa named the leaders during a national unity speech last year, leading to the arrest of several of them and the exile of several others who were out of the country at the time.

The announcement clears the way for the return of Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of Bahrain's largest opposition party, the Haq Movement. Mushaimaa said he planned to arrive in Manama Tuesday evening -- amid early speculation that he would be arrested.

"I know that thousands will be waiting for me," said Mushaimaa, who said he planned to give a speech in Bahrain on Tuesday about the importance of national unity.

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Thousands more people moved into Pearl Roundabout on Monday, a presence that has taken on an air of permanence since government forces retreated on Saturday and demonstrators reoccupied the symbolic location. Tents, some of them outfitted with furniture and occupied by entire families, dot the square.

The mass protests planned for Tuesday in support of calls for political reforms and other concessions and coincided with Mushaimaa's return..

"If the people want a new system in a constitutional kingdom, I will be with them," he said. "If the people just want to change the regime, I will also be standing beside them."

Mushaimaa, who has been living abroad, had previously been detained by the government for campaigning for more democratic rights in the island monarchy.

In September, Bahrain said it requested Interpol -- the world's largest international police organization -- to help in arresting Mushaimaa, who the government accused of a terrorist plot to destroy state buildings and of planning a coup.

But the king's decision closed the books on the case against Mushaimaa, giving him the freedom to return without fear of arrest.

Meanwhile, fallout from last week's violent protests continues.

A 20-year-old protester in Bahrain, who was shot in the head on Friday, has died, hospital sources said Monday. Ridha Mohammed was advancing toward the Pearl Roundabout with other demonstrators when security forces opened fire.

Prior to Mohammed's death, about 10 protesters were thought to have died in five days of protests, but opposition activists say dozens more are unaccounted for.

Bahrain canceled its participation in a Grand Prix auto race that had been scheduled to begin March 11. Testing for the race had been scheduled to start March 3, and protest organizers had threatened to disrupt the event.

The race apparently will be rescheduled, but no date has been selected, race officials said.

In announcing the decision, Crown Prince Salman said, "We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest and leave the hosting of Bahrain's Formula 1 race to a later date."

The country hopes to host the race "in the very near future, according to Zayed R. Alzayani, chairman of the Bahrain International Circuit.

State television on Monday broadcast images of pro-government demonstrators who gathered near a mosque in the capital city, holding flags and chanting slogans including "Long live the king."

Also on Monday, Standard & Poor's downgraded Bahrain's credit rating by one step and advised investors that it believes continued protests could result in a further degradation of the country's ability to meet its financial obligations.

"We expect the demonstrations that have taken place over the past month will persist," the agency wrote.

Protesters initially took to the streets of Manama last week to demand reform and the introduction of a constitutional monarchy.

But some are now calling for the removal of the royal family, which has led the Persian Gulf state since the 18th century.

Young members of the country's Shiite Muslim majority have staged violent protests in recent years to complain about discrimination, unemployment and corruption, issues they say the country's Sunni rulers have done little to address.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights says authorities launched a clampdown on dissent in late 2010. It accused the government of torturing some human rights activists.

 
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