Bahraini authorities have reinforced their crackdown to quell the pro-democracy uprising in their country by arresting top opposition figures in the early hours on Thursday, amid growing international opposition to the heavy use of force by the regime, backed by foreign forces.

In pre-dawn raids on Thursday, Bahraini police specially targeted the leadership of the Haq movement, which is playing a leading role in the protests. Those detained included Haq party’s charismatic leader Hassan Mushaima, who had only last month returned from a self-imposed exile in Britain, after Bahraini authorities dropped previous charges against him. Also arrested was Abdul Jalil al-Singace, another leader of the Haq movement, who had been imprisoned since last August but had been freed in February.

Pursuing a bold non-sectarian agenda, and focusing on non-violence as the means, the Haq party, in conjunction with Bahraini human rights groups has, over the last five years challenged Bahrain’s monarchy, with its pro-democracy call.

In an interview with Al Jazeera prior to his arrest, Mr. Mushaima, emphasised his movement’s commitment to peaceful protests to bring about change. “Bahraini security forces should stop killing people. The United States especially knows that the people are struggling for democracy in a peaceful way. All the journalists came and saw the people protesting peacefully, and they did not try to use any weapons ... and they were only throwing roses,” he said.

Others who are detained include Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad political society, which, ideologically has a secular and leftist orientation, and includes several prominent Sunnis within its ranks. Police when it was still dark, apparently broke into homes to make the arrests.

After isolating on Wednesday the government run Salmaniya hospital, widely viewed as an opposition stronghold, Bahraini authorities on Thursday, reportedly “militarised” the medical complex by appointing a military-figure as its head.

Despite the ban on protests, Bahrain’s civil disobedience movement continued to flare on Thursday. Police broke peaceful demonstrations in Sanabis, Jidhafs and Daih, which are mostly Shia, dominated localities. By evening the residents of the village of Al Musala also came under attack, followed by arrests.

The government’s crackdown has also not spared the foreign media. Police arrested the Wall Street Journal correspondent Alex Delmar-Morgan, and issued marching orders to CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoom, who is now back to his home base of Abu Dhabi. The government’s assault, beefed up by troops, mainly from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, on peaceful protestors, has come under mounting international criticism.

The U.S. Secretary of State, warned during a visit to Cairo said that the Bahrain and its allies from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, were "on the wrong track".

Ironically, Washington’s arch-foe, Iran also used strong language to target Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of Iranian university student, calling from the end of the monarchy, marched on the Saudi embassy in Teheran. “God is the greatest”, “Victory belongs to Islam”, “Al-Saud will collapse soon,” the demonstrators chanted. As a mark of protest, Iran has also recalled its ambassador from Bahrain, Iran’s state media said.

The entry of Saudi troops into Bahrain on Monday has also generated internal dissent in Shia strongholds in the Kingdom. On Wednesday, anti-government demonstrations were held in the cities of Qatif, Seehat, Tarut, Safwa and Awamiya, an AFP report said. Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar expressed “dismay over events in Bahrain -- bloodshed, violation of sanctities and the intimidation of the people”.

Iraq’s top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on Bahraini authorities to "stop using violence against unarmed citizens".

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