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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dissidents discover secret base is Bahraini royal playground

ABU DHABI — Bahraini dissidents, thanks to Google Earth, have discovered that a so-called closed island military base was actually a royal playground.
A dissident blogger, speaking to a Rand Corp. seminar, detailed a closed Bahraini island claimed by the military. The blogger, Mahmoud Yusef, said the so-called military base, entitled Mohamadiya, was actually a lush palace protected by the Coast Guard.
"The place has been appropriated by the rich with the Coast Guard providing protection against outsiders," Yusef said.

[The assertion was relayed as parliamentarians debated freedom of expression in Bahrain, Middle East Newsline reported. Twenty-five deputies have opposed an investigation into alleged sexual content in the Spring of Culture festival.]

In an address on March 15 in the Qatari capital of Doha, Yusef said Bahrainis learned of Mohamadiya through Google Earth, located on the Internet. Google Earth offers maps and satellite images for precise regional searches.

Yusef said the Sunni kingdom has sought to battle bloggers and other elements of the media. A critic of Bahrain's agriculture minister, Yusef said he was summoned for police investigation and charged with defamation in a blog in December 2006.

"I criticized someone from the government who is a moron," Yusef said. "The Bahrain Journalists Association got involved and a deal was struck where I would have to change a few offensive words. But when they asked me to change comments made by others, I refused."

Bahrain, a Sunni regime that presides over a Shi'ite majority, has been regarded as the most liberal of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states. Home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the kingdom allows alcohol and has served as the watering hole for Western military and diplomatic personnel in the Gulf region.

"Bahrain has strong influences from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran," Yusef said. "Nowadays people don't ask if one is Bahraini, but whether Shia or Sunni. It [the Bahraini government] is trying to do whatever they can to marginalize one sect [the Shi'ites]."

Yusef said Bahrain's Information Ministry has banned the media from discussing allegations by a former senior official that the Manama regime paid Shi'ites to convert to Sunni Islam. He said the ministry has also tried to force websites to register.

"The modus operandi is to muzzle journalists," Yusef said.

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