Bahrain police raid Shi'ite cleric's town - 1 killed

2017-05-23 17:05
Bahraini security forces raid a sit-in demonstration in Diraz. (AP)

Bahraini security forces raid a sit-in demonstration in Diraz. (AP)

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Dubai - Bahrain police firing tear gas entered a town on Tuesday where a month long sit-in has supported a prominent Shi'ite cleric who had his citizenship stripped by the government. At least one protester was killed and others were wounded, activists said, and authorities arrested 50 people.

Bahrain's Interior Ministry earlier wrote on Twitter that the operation targeting Diraz, home to Sheikh Isa Qassim, was to "maintain security and public order". It called the area a "haven for wanted fugitives from justice".

Birdshot wounds

The Interior Ministry later said police arrested 50 people, including some who hid inside of Qassim's home. It did not say whether Qassim was among those arrested, though it said some security forces were wounded in the raid.

"During the security operation, troops were able to remove all that disrupts the interest of citizens and hinders movement", the ministry said in a statement.

"Police will remain at the site to ensure people's safety".

Activists shared cellphone pictures and videos showing youths throwing stones and climbing on an armoured personnel carrier. Gunfire could be heard as white smoke from tear gas hung in the air. Another video showed a bulldozer smashing through the area that once hosted the sit-in.

At least one protester was killed, said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. Activists shared images of other protesters suffering what appeared to be birdshot wounds.

The operation follows a Sunday court decision giving Qassim a year's suspended prison sentence and seizing assets belonging to him and his ministry. Two of his aides received similar sentences.

Aiding militants

Police have besieged Qassim's hometown of Diraz for months, tightly controlling access. He could be deported at any time after authorities stripped him of his citizenship last June over accusations that he fuelled extremism. His supporters deny the allegations and called his trial politically motivated.

Shi'ites and others took part in the 2011 Arab Spring protests for greater rights from the Sunni monarchy of Bahrain, home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base. Bahrain put down the protests with the help of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since then, Bahrain has seen low-level unrest. But the year-long crackdown on dissent has raised the stakes, with local Shi'ite militant groups claiming some attacks. Bahrain long has accused Iran of aiding militants, something the Shi'ite power denies.

Meanwhile, activists have been imprisoned or forced into exile. Independent news gathering on the island also has grown more difficult.

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