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U.S. 'Concerned' Over Life Sentences For Shi'ite Activists In Bahrain

The United States has voiced concern over a Bahrain court's sentencing eight Shi'ite opposition activists to life in prison.

State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said, "We're also concerned about the use of military courts to try these civilians."

The Bahrain court sentenced the eight on charges of plotting a coup during protests earlier this year.

After the verdicts, Shi'ite protesters poured into the streets, and security forces used tear gas to drive back hundreds of people trying to reach a central square in the capital, Manama. No injuries were reported.

In March, Bahrain's authorities crushed weeks of protests demanding greater rights for the Shi'ite majority in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The authorities claim the defendants sought to overthrow the Sunni monarchy and have links to a "terrorist organization abroad."

Bahrain's government says Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizballah movement had a role in the protests, which started in February.

Bahrain -- which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet -- invited troops from Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf neighbors to help crush the protests.

compiled from agency reports