- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2011

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain‘s king ordered an end to the emergency rule imposed in mid-March to quell a wave of anti-government protests as leading opposition figures went on trial Sunday for plotting against the Gulf state’s monarchy.

Bahrain state TV said the state of emergency will end June 1 in line with a royal decree.

The announcement came as 21 opposition leaders and political activists faced charges of attempting to overthrow the Sunni monarchy in a special security court set up under the emergency rule.

The prosecution is part of Bahraini authorities’ aggressive pursuit of Shiite opposition supporters who staged weeks of street marches earlier this year, demanding greater freedoms, equal rights and an elected government in the strategic island kingdom, home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Late last month, the special security court sentenced four people to death for killing two policemen in the unrest.

At least 30 people have been killed since members of Bahrain‘s Shiite majority took their grievances to the streets in February. The protests were inspired by revolts against autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

During Sunday’s closed-door court proceedings, the 21 defendants — or in some cases just their lawyers — pleaded not guilty. Another hearing was set for Thursday.

Fourteen members of the group charged Sunday are in custody. The others were charged in absentia.

The allegations include seeking to topple the 200-year-old Sunni monarchy and having links to “a terrorist organization abroad working for a foreign country.” No additional details were made public, but Bahrain‘s leaders have claimed that Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah is involved in Bahrain‘s protests.

Bahrain is locked in a deepening quarrel with Iran, which has sharply criticized the wave of arrests and the dispatch of a 1,500-strong Saudi-led force in March to prop up the monarchy.