Bahrain uses teargas to disperse Shi'ites: witnesses

Fri Nov 9, 2012 2:59pm EST
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MANAMA (Reuters) - Police in Bahrain fired teargas and blocked roads on Friday to stop thousands of Shi'ite Muslims joining prayers led by one of their spiritual leaders, witnesses said, amid deepening tensions in the Gulf Arab kingdom and U.S. ally.

The island country hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet and has been volatile since majority Shi'ite Muslims began protesting last year against what they said was widespread discrimination, a charge the Sunni-led government denies.

Shi'ite leaders had called for people to turn out in support of Sheikh Issa Qassim in his village of Diraz, west of the capital Manama, after the government warned clerics not to criticize the government or incite violence.

The call for mass prayers appeared to flout a ban on rallies and protests announced by the interior ministry last month.

An Interior Ministry statement carried on the official BNA news agency said security measures had been taken to "prevent those who were trying to exploit prayers to provoke hooliganism ... and violate freedom of expression".

A statement issued by the government's Information Affairs Authority in English said police had turned away worshippers because the Diraz mosque only accommodated a few hundred people.

Witnesses said some arrests were made as riot police prevented non-residents from reaching Diraz, blocking off all roads and highways.

A 16-year-old Bahraini was killed on Friday on a highway not far from Diraz in what the Interior Ministry said was a traffic accident. Opposition and human rights activists said he had ran onto a busy road while being chased by police.

"Confirmed from several eyewitnesses: Ali Radhi was chased by riot police. He went onto the highway to run away, was hit by a civilian car. We hold the Ministry of Interior responsible for his death," Maryam al-Khawaja, acting head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, said on her Twitter account.   Continued...

An anti-government protester gestures as he stands in tear gas fired by riot police, as he tries to walk towards the village of Diraz, west of Manama November 9, 2012. REUTERS/STRINGER