Manama: The Saudi-led Gulf force sent to maintain security in Bahrain following anti-government protests will remain in Bahrain even after emergency rule is lifted next month, the head of the kingdom's military said in a move that could worsen tensions with Iran.

Iran has condemned the presence of the 1,500-strong force in Bahrain as an "occupation" against Bahrain's Shiite majority.

In response, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders have warned Iran not to interfere in their internal affairs and accused Bahrain's protesters of having links to groups such as Hezbollah.

Bahrain's military commander, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, warned demonstrators not to return to the streets.

"I say to those who did not get the message, ‘If you return we will come back, stronger this time'," Shaikh Khalifa was quoted as saying late on Wednesday by the official Bahrain News Agency.

Hallucinogenic pills

He further claimed that protesters were "given pills which affected their minds and made them do unusual things" — a new allegation that echoed assertions by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that his opponents included young people on hallucinogenic pills placed "in their coffee with milk, like Nescafe".

Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa has said emergency rule will be lifted on June 1.

Meanwhile, a Bahraini court yesterday sentenced a detainee to 15 years on charges of attempting to murder policemen.

The court, comprising one military and two civilian judges, found Mohammad Yousuf Kadhem guilty. He has 12 days to appeal.

In a separate case, a court adjourned the high-profile trial of 21 defendants, including seven who are being tried in absentia, to May 16 after lawyers requested more time to study the charges and testimonies.

Sedition case

Some of the lawyers appeared for the first time before the court.

The court on its first session postponed the start of the pleadings after some defendants said that they did not appoint lawyers. The court gave them time to ask their families to find legal representatives.Under Bahrain's laws, no case can proceed without at least one lawyer for the defendant.

The 14 defendants present at the court yesterday, including Ebrahim Sharif, the head of liberal society Waad and activist Abdul Hadi Al Khawaja, faced up to 12 charges, including incitement to topple the political regime.

A call by the lawyers to release them on bail during the investigation was rejected by the prosecutor who argued that the charges were too serious.

In their opening remarks, the lawyers disputed the merit of the court, saying that it had no competence to look into the case.

Doctors, nurses released

Several activists were present at the trial and the judge allowed the defendants to meet their newly appointed lawyers and their relatives.

Also yesterday, Bahraini authorities said 24 detained doctors and nurses have been released in humanitarian grounds pending their trial.

On May 3, Minister of Justice Shaikh Khalid Bin Ali Al Khalifa said that 23 doctors and 24 nurses would stand trial on charges that included attempts to topple the country's political regime and abusing their positions.

"Hard evidence showed that the Salmaniya Medical Complex was used extensively for the activities of saboteurs who sought to spread chaos, cause disruptions and troubles and create sedition within the kingdom," the justice ministry had said.

Protesters claim the hospital was used to help the injured. However, health and justice authorities insist that the hospital was used as a command centre for the protests and its grounds were turned into camps for demonstrators.

List of defendants

  • The defendants in custody are Abdul Wahab Hussain Ali Ahmad, Ebrahim Sharif Abdul Raheem Mousa, Hassan Ali Mushaima, Abdul Hadi Abdullah Al Khawaja, Abdul Jalil Abdullah Al Singees, Mohammad Habib Al Saffaf, Saeed Mirza Ahmad, Abdul Jalil Radhi Makki, Abdul Hadi Abdullah Hassan, Al Hur Yousuf Al Somaikh, Abdullah Eisa Al Mahroos, Salah Abdullah Hubail, Mohammad Hassan Jawad and Mohammad Ali Ridha Esmail.
  • The seven who are being tried in absentia are Sayyid Aqeel Ahmad Al Mahfoodh, Ali Hassan Abdul Imam, Abdul Gani Eisa Ghanger, Saeed Abdul Nabi Al Shehabi, Abdul Raoof Abdullah Al Shayeb, Abbas Nasser Omran and Ali Hassan Mushaima.