Bahraini armed forces continued to battle protestors, firing on activists with tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as specifically targeting protest leaders, opposition leaders said on Saturday.
Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of the opposition party, Wefaq, was injured when he was hit by a teargas canister during clashes with riot police. Salman said this was the first time the leaders were intentionally targeted. He vowed that his party will not stop fighting for democracy and human rights, in the face of state repression.
Government forces are struggling to quell protests led by the marginalised Shiite majority in the Bahraini capital. Salman showed red welts he sustained during the clash to reporters, but was otherwise uninjured. Salman told press that he was hit in the back and shoulder by either a teargas canister or a stun grenade as he led a group of 40 protesters to a march in the outskirts of the capitol.
Another senior opposition leader, Hassan Al Marzooq, was also injured in the clashes and had to be taken to a hospital after being hit in the head with a rubber pellet. He remains in intensive care unit following surgery.
Protesters described the clashes as “an attempt to suppress the will of the Bahraini people to demand reform and democracy”.
The Bahraini government issued a statement saying the rally was illegal and violence was only used when protesters refused to leave, after police used “legal methods to disperse the crowd.”
This incident is the most recent in a series of escalating clashes in recent weeks between the parties. In the past the Wefaq Party committed to only participating in government- approved peaceful rallies. However, they were unable to get approval last weekend for the march on Friday and chose to gather anyway.
Clashes have been ongoing since February 2011 led by the kingdom’s Shia majority. But the Saudi-backed Sunni government has been responding to these calls with force even resorting to using teargas, rubber bullets and arrests to quell more protests.
The march was destined for a historic Shia mosque but was halted after several hours of clashes. Salman had previously warned the government of more popular resistance if demands for democracy were further disregarded. The rally was not approved because it would have disrupted traffic, said the police. Security forces closed off the roads leading to the clashes but protesters responded by lighting fires alongside the road. “Security forces have been careful in dealing professionally with political leaders but this time was
different. It seems a gradual crackdown is going on,” senior Wefaq party member Matar Matar told Reuters. “They are closing the small margin for freedom of expression.”