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Bahrain government bans protests amid violence

image captionOpposition activists say at least 80 people have died since February 2011

Bahrain has banned all protests and gatherings amid clashes between police and anti-government demonstrators.

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifah said "repeated abuse" of the rights to freedom of speech and expression could no longer be accepted.

Protests would be permitted only once security and stability were sufficient to maintain national unity, he added.

Demonstrations were last banned during the three-month state of emergency King Hamad declared in March 2011.

The previous month protesters had occupied a prominent landmark in Manama, the now-demolished Pearl Roundabout, demanding more democracy and an end to what they said was discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family.

At least 35 people, including five police officers, were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands jailed in February and March 2011.

Since then, opposition and human rights activists say another 45 people have been killed, a figure which the government disputes.

In the past two weeks, officials say two policemen have died of injuries sustained during clashes with protesters in villages outside Manama.

'Against human rights'

In a statement announcing the ban on rallies and public gatherings, Sheikh Rashid said the government had strived to protect freedom of expression but the privilege had been "abused repeatedly" by organisers, with participants showing a lack of commitment to the law.

image captionThe interior minister said any illegal rally or gathering would be "tackled through legal actions"

The protests, which the interior minister said had called for the overthrow of the state and leading national figures, were "devoid of respect and intended to humiliate", and therefore "jeopardised civil peace and disturbed security and general order". This, he said, could not be accepted.

These events, he added, had been organised by political societies, led by the al-Wifaq National Islamic Society - the largest Shia opposition group.

Sheikh Rashid said that many members of Bahraini society were "fed up" with "such violations that risk civil peace", and that there was "a need to put an end to them".

"The interior ministry has strived to tackle those violations through co-ordination with the organisers in many occasions, but they failed to control those events despite their promises," he added.

They would remain banned until security was sufficient to preserve civil peace and protect national unity, the minister said.

He warned that any "illegal rally or gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for and participating in it".

An al-Wifaq official, Hadi al-Musawi, told the Associated Press that the interior ministry's declaration went "against international human rights".

In September, the UN's Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, said criticising the government and calling for reforms were "not crimes".

"The government must engage in an open, genuine and meaningful dialogue with the opposition, across the political spectrum. This is the only constructive way to defuse an increasingly tense situation," she said.

In a separate development on Monday, Bahrain's prosecutor-general announced that it had appealed against the acquittals of a policewoman accused of torturing a journalist and two policemen who were charged with the manslaughter of two Shia protesters last year.