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By Andrew Hammond
MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's security forces used excessive force to suppress protests in the island kingdom earlier this year, including torture and forced confessions, an inquiry panel charged with investigating abuses said on Wednesday.
The panel, led by Egyptian-American international law expert Cherif Bassiouni, was formed and funded by Bahrain's government five months ago in an attempt to address charges of human rights abuses during the crackdown.
"In many cases security agencies in the government of Bahrain resorted to excessive and unnecessary force," Bassiouni said in a speech at the royal palace, adding that many detainees were subjected to torture and other forms of abuse.
The panel, which said 35 people were killed, including five security personnel, urged a review of sentences handed down to those held responsible for the turmoil.
Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahrain's majority Shi'ites took to the streets in February to protest against the Sunni-led government, triggering a crackdown in March that included mass unrests and the use of force.
It was the worst unrest in Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is based, since sectarian-tinged political violence shook the kingdom in the mid-1990s.
Bahrain called in Saudi and UAE troops to help crush the protests, which it says Iran fomented through its co-religionists on the island.
King Hamad, speaking after Bassiouni delivered his report, blamed much of the unrest on efforts by Iran to incite violence, but said laws would be reviewed and if necessary revised.
"We do not want, ever again, to see our country paralysed by intimidation and sabotage... nor do we want, ever again, to discover that any of our law enforcement personnel have mistreated anyone," he said. "Therefore, we must reform our laws so that they are consistent with international standards to which Bahrain is committed by treaties."
The panel said in its report that it found no clear evidence linking Iran to the unrest.
The government said later the panel had reported that five of the deaths during the unrest were the result of torture, but added "The report does not confirm that there was a government policy of torture, mistreatment or using excessive force."
The United States has said a $53 million arms deal depends on what the report says, and Bahrain has already admitted security forces used excessive force in some cases, while denying any coordinated policy of torture.
The report follows a state-orchestrated "national dialogue" about the unrest which opposition groups dismissed as a farce.
Hours before the release of the panel's report, Bahraini security forces chased youths in a Shi'ite town and one man was killed when his car was hit by a police vehicle, activists said.
Witnesses said riot police in 4x4 vehicles sped through the streets of Aali, outside the capital Manama, in pursuit of dozens of teenagers, before seizing one and beating him with batons as helicopters circled overhead.
Graffiti in the area read "Death to Al Khalifa," a reference to the Sunni ruling family, which Bahrain's majority Shi'ites accuse of denying them access to housing, land and state employment on sectarian grounds.
Security forces used tear gas to scatter dozens of people who marched through the centre of Aali, chanting "Down with (King) Hamad." Acrid black smoke rose from burning tyres.
Hours earlier, a security forces vehicle in the town smashed into a car, which in turn struck a parked vehicle and killed the driver, activists said. Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets after the crash, they said.
The dead man's home, reeking of tear gas, was deserted and apparently abandoned by its occupants, after what neighbours said was a raid by security forces that is typical of their reaction to protest-related deaths.
Elsewhere in Aali, graffiti read "Your turn is coming," an apparent reference to the toppling of Arab leaders in Tunisia and Egypt after mass demonstrations.
In its Twitter feed, the Interior Ministry called the incident in Aali a traffic accident and said it had completed a forensic investigation, but gave no details.
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