Bahrain clerics protest opposition leader’s arrest

Dozens of Shiite clerics demonstrated in Bahrain on Monday against the detention of opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman by the Sunni authorities in the small but strategic Gulf state.

News of the arrest of the Al-Wefaq leader drew hundreds of his supporters onto the streets of Shiite villages outside the capital Manama late on Sunday, prompting clashes with security forces.

Police fired tear gas and birdshot to disperse the protesters, many of whom had gathered in Salman's home village of Bilad al-Qadeem, witnesses said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The white-turbaned clerics gathered in Imam al-Sadeq mosque in Al-Guful village, brandishing photographs of the detained opposition leader, pictures posted on Al-Wefaq's Twitter account showed.

The party has demanded Salman's immediate release, calling his detention "a dangerous adventure that will complicate the political situation in Bahrain".

The Gulf kingdom, which is ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty but has a mainly Shiite population, has been gripped by sporadic violence ever since the authorities crushed month-long protests led by Al-Wefaq in 2011.

At least 89 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, and hundreds have been arrested and put on trial, human rights groups say.

Strategically located just across the Gulf from Iran, Bahrain is home base of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and Britain announced plans earlier this month to build a naval base of its own.

Bahrain is also a partner in the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.

But authorities have rejected Al-Wefaq's demand for an elected prime minister to replace the current government dominated by the ruling family.

Al-Wefaq's announcement that it would boycott a November parliamentary election it dismissed as a farce was followed by a court order banning the party in late October.

Authorities have been tight-lipped about Salman's whereabouts since summoning him for questioning on Sunday about "violating certain aspects of the law".

But Salman's lawyer, Abdullah al-Shamlan, tweeted that his client had been arrested and accused of "inciting hatred against the regime and calling for its overthrow by force".

He said he had not been allowed to attend Salman's questioning.

Shamlan said the Al-Wefaq leader was also accused of "insulting the judiciary and the executive branch", of "sectarian incitement", of "spreading false news likely to cause panic and undermine security" and "participation in events detrimental to the economy".

Salman was re-elected as party leader on Friday and marked the occasion by leading a protest march outside the capital.

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