Bahrain opposition leader injured in protest

June 22, 2012 - 2:07 PM
APTOPIX Mideast Bahrain

Bahraini anti-government protesters demonstrate Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Diraz, Bahrain. Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the demonstration against alleged deaths of infants and miscarriages blamed on excessive tear gas. Arabic on the sign reads: "For what crime have they been killed?!" (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahraini riot police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets Friday, injuring the head of the Shiite majority's main political bloc while trying to break up protests in the country's capital, the opposition said.

Al Wefaq's secretary-general Sheik Ali Salman told The Associated Press he was hit in the shoulder and back by either a tear gas canister or stun grenade during demonstrations in Manama, which are common following Friday prayers. He had red welts on his skin but seemed otherwise in good health. Al Wefaq had earlier said that rubber bullets had caused the injury.

He said he was leading about 40 protesters on the way to a march when they encountered police who ordered them to disperse and then started firing into the crowd.

Hassan al-Marzooq, another opposition leader, was hit in the neck by a rubber bullet, an Al Wefaq statement said. He has since been taken to a private hospital in the capital for treatment.

Salman said the leaders had been intentionally targeted, the first time that the Bahrain security forces had done so.

"More violations will complicate our efforts for reconciliation and a meaningful dialogue," he said. "We continue our democratic demands and call for universal human rights principles through peaceful assemblies. It is the people's right."

Bahrain has experienced near daily protests for 16 months caused by an uprising by the kingdom's Shiite majority seeking greater political rights from the Western-backed Sunni monarchy.

The country's rulers have crucial support from neighboring Saudi Arabia, but are under pressure from their U.S. allies to reopen dialogue with Shiite opposition factions. A new government initiative for talks is expected to be announced soon. But main Shiite groups have already signaled that negotiations are futile unless the ruling dynasty agrees to give up its near total control of government affairs in the strategic island, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Opposition groups had requested a permit to hold Friday's protest but said they were denied one by authorities. They attempted to march anyway to the site of a historic Shiite mosque, sparking several hours of clashes with riot police. Along with the protest leaders, Al Wefaq said scores were injured from inhaling tear gas during several hours of clashes.

Security forces closed roads leading to the protest site and protesters responded by lighting fires along the roadside.