Dubai, United Arab Emirates • Police in Bahrain clashed with residents of a besieged town that is home to a Shiite cleric on Wednesday, arresting at least two youths and fueling protests throughout the day, witnesses and activists said.
The massing of riot police drew wailing women in black chadors onto the streets of Diraz, fearful that Sheikh Isa Qassim would be deported after losing his citizenship in June over the Sunni-ruled government’s allegations that he fueled extremism.
The sheikh’s supporters and activists say he’s been targeted as part of a wider crackdown on dissent on the island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base.
Police fired tear gas during the confrontation and at least one person was slightly wounded, witnesses and activists said.
One witness said police targeted a building near the sheikh’s home where young people who protectively surround his home at night sleep during the day. Qassim has been in legal limbo since June, living quietly at his Diraz home while police surrounded the town from the outside, controlling who could enter.
Witnesses and activists spoke on condition of anonymity as a politician previously faced charges for speaking to The Associated Press.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry later said on Twitter that “several arrest and search warrants have been enforced for some individuals and their residences.” It did not elaborate and Bahraini officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The arrests sparked later protests in other areas, with some demonstrators dragging flaming debris into roadways.
Bahrain has been in the midst of a crackdown on dissent at a level unseen since its 2011 Arab Spring protests, when the country’s predominantly Shiite population and others demanded more political freedom from the island’s ruling Al Khalifa family.