Bahrain opposition says leader injured in police clash

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 23, 2012 4:34 AM
Bahrain opposition says leader injured in police clash

MANAMA (Reuters) - The head of Bahrain's leading opposition party was hit by a rubber bullet and a teargas canister during clashes with riot police late on Friday, the party said, accusing the government of intensifying a crackdown on protests.

Bahrain's police said one man was taken to hospital and a number of other people were injured in the confrontation.

The Gulf Arab state, which hosts Washington's Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since pro-democracy protesters, led by majority Shi'ites, took to the streets in February 2011, partly inspired by revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

The ruling Al Khalifa family, which is Sunni Muslim, has extended parliament's powers of scrutiny over ministers and budgets, but rejected demands for full legislative powers and elected governments.

The leader of the opposition Wefaq party Sheikh Ali Salman was hit on the chest and shoulder by a rubber bullet and a teargas canister on Friday, the movement said in a statement.

It added several others were also injured including Hassan Marzouk, pictures of whom circulated on social media showing him lying on the ground covered in blood around the neck.

Witnesses said large number of police turned out to stop the march. They said they saw police firing teargas and demonstrators throwing petrol bombs.

"Security forces have been careful in dealing professionally with political leaders but this time was different. It seems a gradual crackdown is going on," said senior Wefaq party member Matar Matar. "They are closing the small margin for freedom of expression."

The government has denied it is cracking down on demonstrations, saying it has allowed several to take place this year.

"The director general of police ... clarified that a limited number of people had been exposed to miscellaneous injuries, and that one person had taken to hospital for treatment," said the police in a statement.

The government says Wefaq and its supporters have a Shi'ite sectarian agenda. The opposition says this is an excuse to avoid giving up privileges.

(Reporting by Andrew Hammond and Angus McDowall)