DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahraini security forces clashed with supporters of the country’s Shi‘ite Muslim spiritual leader near his home on Wednesday, activists said.
Videos posted by activists online appeared to show around a dozen police vehicles and armoured cars in Diraz village where Ayatollah Isa Qassim lives surrounded by youths maintaining a round-the-clock vigil to prevent his arrest.
The videos and still images, whose authenticity could not be immediately confirmed by Reuters, showed the police cars firing tear gas at stone-throwing protesters.
Qassim is the Shi‘ite majority’s most revered cleric and his treatment by Bahraini authorities has repeatedly drawn rebukes of the island kingdom’s Sunni-led government by Shi‘ite Iran as sectarian rancour continues to divide the region.
The Bahraini interior ministry appeared to refer to the incident in a statement on its official Twitter account.
“As part of efforts to preserve security and enforce the law, court orders to arrest wanted people in certain villages and to search their homes were implemented this morning.”
Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment and it was unclear whether they sought to detain Qassim.
Qassim went on trial for money laundering in June and faces expulsion from the country after authorities revoked his citizenship in May for fomenting violence and alleged ties to foreign powers - an apparent reference to Iran.
The ayatollah and his supporters have denied the charges.
Bahrain’s government dissolved the main opposition al-Wefaq group over the summer and detained a top human rights activist, prompting protests by the United States and United Nations.
The island kingdom has been hit by unrest since 2011 “Arab Spring” protests led by the Shi‘ite community were repressed by force with help from Gulf Arab neighbours.
Host of the U.S.’s Fifth Fleet, Bahrain blames Shi‘ite regional power Iran for the instability, which Tehran denies.
Writing By Noah Browning