June 2, 2017 / 2:23 PM / 4 months ago

U.N. rights chief calls for Bahrain probe into protester deaths

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein of Jordan speaks during a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

DUBAI (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights chief on Friday urged an investigation into a Bahraini security raid which killed five people last month and expressed concern at what he called a crackdown on dissent in the Gulf island kingdom.

Bahraini police pushed into Diraz village outside the capital Manama on May 23, according to the government, to arrest suspected militants and others wanted on security charges.

But activists from the country’s Shi‘ite Muslim majority accused the Sunni-led authorities of using excessive force to intimidate the sect and its spiritual leader, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, who lives in Diraz guarded by a sit-in of supporters.

Five were killed and 286 arrested as they confronted advancing police, who used tear gas and birdshot.

“I urge the Government to investigate the events of 23 May, in particular the loss of lives, to ensure that the findings are made public and that those responsible are held accountable,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, said in a statement.

“I urge Bahrain to choose a different path – one of engagement and dialogue, as well as accountability for violence, regardless of the perpetrator,” he added.

There was no immediate response by the Bahraini government to the statement, but it denies targeting the Shi‘ite sect or any systematic abuse of rights.

Bahrain and neighboring Saudi Arabia put down 2011 “Arab Spring” protests led by the Shi‘ite community demanding more rights and representation. Shootings of protesters and attacks by militants on security forces have since persisted.

The government says the opposition foments violence with the help of its arch-rival, Shi‘ite Iran, a charge Tehran denies.

Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Stephen Powell

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