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Five Killed, Hundreds Arrested In Bahrain At Shi'ite Protest; Iran Blames Trump


U.S. President Donald Trump met with Bahrain's King Hamad and other Persian Gulf royalty during his visit to Saudi Arabia.

At least five people were killed and hundreds arrested in Bahrain on May 23 after police stormed a sit-in by protesters supporting the Sunni-ruled kingdom's top Shi'ite cleric, Bahrain's Interior Ministry said.

Police said they arrested nearly 300 people at the protest in Diraz, near the capital, Manama, as they demonstrated outside the home of cleric Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain's majority Shi'ite community.

The ministry said that fugitives who had escaped from the Jau prison were among the 286 people arrested at the protest and asserted that several of the "outlaws" were carrying hand grenades and knives.

"A large number of them were hiding in the residence of Isa Qassim," the ministry said, adding that several members of the security force were injured.

Human rights groups condemned the deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called it the "first concrete result" of what he described as U.S. President Donald Trump "cozying up to despots" in Saudi Arabia two days earlier -- a reference to a summit Trump attended with leaders of several mainly Muslim countries in Riyadh on May 21. He accused Trump of "emboldening the Bahrain regime."

Trump met with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa at a summit in Riyadh over the weekend and told him there "has been a little strain" in U.S.- Bahraini relations, "but there won't be strain with this administration."

The tiny Gulf state is a key ally of the United States and is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, but the administration of former President Barack Obama frequently scolded Manama over rights concerns.

The Bahrain authorities have accused Qassim of promoting "sectarianism and violence," and sentenced him on May 21 to a suspended one-year jail term on charges of illegal fund-raising and money laundering.

Qassim faces expulsion from the kingdom after authorities revoked his citizenship last year for alleged links to Iran and fomenting violence, charges he has denied.

The government's actions have sparked repeated sit-ins outside Qassim's residence in Diraz since June 2016.

Bahraini authorities say Iran is behind the unrest in the kingdom, which has been ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty. Tehran has denied any involvement.

The United States accuses Iran of fomenting unrest across the Middle East and of backing terrorism. At the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Trump accused Iran of fueling "the fires of sectarian conflict and terror" and called for its international isolation.

Human Rights Watch called the Diraz raid a crackdown on free expression and said there was no coincidence it occurred two days after a "convivial" meeting between Trump and King Hamad.

Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into the security forces' use of "excessive force" against protesters it said were mostly peaceful.

Bahrain has been rocked by unrest since 2011, when local authorities backed by a Saudi military force crushed Shi'ite protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Dozens of civilian protesters have been killed since 2011 and around 10 policemen have died.

Manama has imprisoned dozens of Shi'ites accused of taking part in demonstrations and stripped at least 316 Bahrainis of their citizenship since 2012, according to Amnesty.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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