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Published: Sunday April 3, 2011 MYT 5:14:00 PM

Bahrain bans main opposition newspaper

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP): Bahraini authorities banned the country's main opposition newspaper on Sunday in a widening effort to muzzle anti-government media and crackdown on the Shiite opposition in this Sunni-ruled Gulf nation.

The newspaper Al-Wasat did not appear Sunday after Bahrain's Information Ministry ordered the paper to shut down. Al-Wasat's online edition also was blocked. The state-run Bahrain News Agency accused the paper of "unethical" coverage of the uprising against the country's rulers.

Bahrain has sharply tightened Internet and media controls under the military rule imposed last month after weeks of protests and clashes by groups seeking to break the monarchy's grip on power in this strategic Gulf nation, which is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

"This is an attempt silence independent news in Bahrain," said Mansoor al-Jamri, the editor-in-chief of Al-Wasat and one of its main shareholders. "There is now no other voice, but that of the state. The news blackout is so intense."

Bahrain's king declared emergency rule last month and cracked down on protests by the country's Shiite majority for more rights and freedom against a Sunni dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for two centuries.

About 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni-led Gulf states also entered Bahrain at the government's invitation to help quell the rebellion and deepening the kingdom's sectarian divide.

The unprecedented political unrest in the tiny nation of 700,000 has also inflamed tensions between the peninsula's Sunni heavyweight, Saudi Arabia, and neighboring Iran, a Shiite theocracy.

At least 20 people have been killed since the protests began in mid-February and hundreds of protesters, activists and opposition leaders have been detained by the authorities. Bloggers and journalists have been threatened by armed thugs and harassed by authorities.

"We have been working in extreme conditions and under immense pressure since the emergency measures were announced," al-Jamri said. The newspaper's printing facility has been vandalized twice in the past month and journalists, editors and other staff of Al-Wasat have been subjected to a "systematic campaign of intimidation by the state media," he added.

The first edition of Al Wasat newspaper hit the news stands in September 2002. The paper has a daily circulation of 15,000 and a popular online edition. It has 200 employees of whom 50 are reporters and editors.

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