- - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MANAMA — Bahrain’s highest court this week upheld prison terms for 20 opposition figures — including eight sentenced to life — for plots to overthrow the government in a decision likely to touch off more protests in the Gulf nation and bring renewed criticism from its Western allies.

The group includes a civil rights activist who staged a 110-day hunger strike last year to protest the verdicts, which critics have denounced as part of attempts to crush an Arab Spring-inspired uprising that began nearly two years ago in the strategic island kingdom.

Authorities in Bahrain — home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet — accuse Iran of encouraging the Shiite-led protests as a way to undermine Bahrain’s pro-Western leadership and gain a key foothold on the doorstep of rival Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain’s majority Shiites, who have led sporadic unrest in past decades, claim they face systematic discrimination at the hands of the Sunni monarchy. More than 55 people have died in the unrest since February 2011.

EGYPT

Former judge challenges new constitution

CAIRO — The only female judge to sit on Egypt’s highest court says she has filed the first legal challenge against the country’s highly contentious constitution, which cost her the seat she held.

Tahani el-Gebali said Tuesday that she has filed a complaint to the Supreme Constitutional Court questioning the legality of the charter, which she said was drafted and passed illegally. She called it “a threat to the rule of law.”

Judge el-Gebali said she asked the court to nullify the consequences of the constitution’s passage, one of which is the reduction of the number of judges sitting on the court. She argues that violates the court’s independence.

The constitution has highly polarized Egyptians. It passed by a 64 percent “yes” vote in a referendum in which about 33 percent of voters participated.

JORDAN

Riot breaks out in Syrian refugee camp

ZAATARI — Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp attacked aid workers with sticks and stones Tuesday, frustrated after cold, howling winds swept away their tents and torrential rains flooded muddy streets overnight.

Police said seven aid workers were injured.

The refugees may be about to face even deeper misery with warnings of a major snowstorm threatening Jordan and Turkey — the two countries with the largest Syrian refugee populations.

The riot broke out after the region’s first major winter storm this year hit the Zaatari refugee camp, home to nearly 50,000 refugees in Jordan’s northern desert. Inside the camp, pools and lakes surrounded tents, stranding refugees including some pregnant women and infants.

IRAN

Ayatollah warns against raising election doubts

TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader says that Iranians should not serve the country’s enemies by questioning the fairness of upcoming presidential elections.

The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei quoted Tuesday by state TV also appeared to be a warning to reformists, who have stressed in recent weeks that the vote scheduled for June must be free.

Iran wants to avoid a repeat of the unrest that followed 2009 presidential elections. Opponents of the winner, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called them fraudulent.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, said hostile powers “want to do something so that the elections are without the lively and massive participation of the people.”

“All people should be careful that their remarks do not serve this desire of the enemy,” he said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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