- - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

MANAMA — A Bahraini court Tuesday upheld prison sentences against 20 opposition figures convicted of plotting to overthrow the Western-allied government, including eight prominent activists facing life in prison.

The decision is likely to deepen the nearly 19-month-long crisis between Bahrain’s Sunni rulers and Shiite-led protesters demanding a greater political voice in the strategic Gulf kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

The group on trial includes some of the most high-profile leaders. Among the eight sentenced to life is rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who staged a 110-day hunger strike earlier this year in protest.

The other 12 have lesser prison terms, ranging from five to 15 years, with seven of them convicted in absentia.

The decision also could escalate street clashes that have occurred nearly nonstop since the Arab Spring-inspired uprising began in February 2011. More than 50 people have been killed in Bahrain’s unrest.

EGYPT

Mubarak culture minister charged with corruption

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities charged ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s longtime culture minister with corruption on Tuesday and referred him to trial, the state news agency reported.

Justice Ministry officials also said that Mubarak, his wife and two children are being investigated for new corruption allegations pertaining to the purchase of land in the Nile Delta north of Cairo at a small fraction of its market value.

No new charges have been brought against any of the four as yet.

Mubarak already is serving a life sentence on a conviction of complicity in the killing of hundreds of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule.

IRAQ

Iraq threatens to cut Kurd budget over oil

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Cabinet threatened Tuesday to cut the autonomous Kurdish region’s budget by $3 billion over a suspension of oil exports in a wide-ranging dispute between the two sides.

Kurdish authorities in Arbil suspended exports of oil via central government pipelines in April as a result of a payment dispute, restarting them last month as part of a goodwill gesture that is due to expire on Sept. 15.

On Tuesday, Iraqi ministers considered a Cabinet report that said the suspension of exports, along with lower-than-expected levels of exports in months previous to April, equaled more than $3 billion in lost income.

“The Cabinet decided to give the Kurdistan regional government one week to come and defend themselves,” said Ali Mussawi, spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “If they do not, these funds will be cut from their budget.”

Kurdistan originally halted exports on April 1 over $1.5 billion it said was owed to foreign oil companies working in the region and that Baghdad allegedly had withheld.

Baghdad and Arbil are at odds over issues that include Kurdistan’s refusal to seek approval from Baghdad for oil contracts it has awarded to foreign firms and over a swath of disputed territory in northern Iraq.

The central government says all oil deals must go through the federal oil ministry, and it regards as illegal any that do not.

From wire dispatches and staff reports