Bahrain's opposition asked for U.N. and American intervention in the government crackdown on the Shiite protests trying to loosen the monarchy's grip, in a brief protest Sunday in the capital that disbanded before police could arrive to break it up.
The 18 opposition legislators protesting Sunday at the U.N. offices in Manama resigned last month to protest the crackdown on the monthlong revolt, inspired by the pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world. Bahrain's king declared martial law last week, and a Saudi-led military force from other Gulf nations is in the country to back the Sunni monarchy.
In the five-minute protest, the lawmakers appealed to the U.N. to stop the violence against protesters and mediate talks between the opposition and the monarchy; they asked the U.S. to pressure the Gulf force to leave.
"They should return home. There is no need for them to be here since this a political, not a military problem," said Jassim Hussein, a former parliament member of Bahrain's largest Shiite group Al Wefaq.
The Gulf force underscores the deep worries about Bahrain's stability among the region's Sunni kings and sheiks, who fear any stumble by Bahrain's leaders could embolden challenges to their own regimes and possibly open political inroads for Shiite Iran.
Iran has condemned the presence of the Gulf force in Bahrain.
The United States has condemned the violence in Bahrain and called on the dialogue between the two sides.
The opposition is demanding political freedoms and equal rights for the island nation's majority Shiite community, which it says suffers discrimination under Sunni rule. Some are also demanding the ouster of the ruling family.
U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, condemned the crackdown in Bahrain, the home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Feet, but cautioned against Washington's rush to intervene in every Arab country experiencing political unrest.
"I think we have to be very careful to treat every country differently," Mullen said on ABC's "This Week."
"Certainly there's a tremendous change going on right now throughout the Middle East, including in Bahrain. And Bahrain is in a much different situation than Libya." Unlike Libya, the Gulf kingdom has been America's "critical ally for decades," Mullen said, adding that the U.S. is working "very hard to support a peaceful resolution there, as tragic as it is."
"We decry the violence that's occurred in Bahrain," Mullen said." I think the approach needs to be different."
Authorities have widened pressures on political activists and others under emergency rule interrogating human rights activists and detaining doctors from the state-run hospital who helped treat protesters at the height of the uprising.
Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Human Rights Center, was briefly detained Sunday by masked security officials, he said. Agents also confiscated computers, CDs and mobile phones.
Rajab said his face was covered and he was handcuffed before being put into a car, where he was slapped and beaten. "They were insulting me, saying things like, 'You're Shiite so go back to Iran,'" he told The Associated Press after he was released.
On Friday, officials wiped away a main symbol of the uprising. Cranes pulled down the 300-foot (90-meter) monument at the heart of a landmark square that has been occupied by protesters and the scene of deadly confrontations.
The monument — six white curved beams topped with a huge cement pearl — was built in Pearl Square as a tribute to the kingdom's history as a pearl-diving center. It became the backdrop to uprising after protesters set up camp at Pearl Square in the capital, Manama.
Security forces overran the camp on Wednesday, setting off clashes that killed at least five people, including two policemen.
At least 13 people have been killed in the monthlong revolt.
The parliament is Bahrain's only elected body. It holds limited authority since all the country's decisions — including the appointment of government ministers — rest with the king.
Associated Press writer Reem Khalifa contributed to this report.