Fierce clashes erupted across Bahrain on Friday as the strategic island state faces another surge in protester violence amid heightened tensions after a car bombing earlier this week targeted a mosque in the ruling family’s heartland.
Police and youths clashed across several villages dominated by the majority Shia on Friday after a series of raids against protesters’ houses.
The increase in violence comes amid the political vacuum as talks between the government, its backers among the minority Sunni community and representatives of the Shia-led opposition fail to make progress.
A gas canister inside a car exploded late on Wednesday outside a Sunni mosque in Riffa, an area fiercely loyal to the ruling al-Khalifa family, in what officials described as an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions. There were no injuries at the mosque, which was filled with worshippers.
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, condemned the attack, reiterating calls for both sides in the conflict to engage in dialogue, promote reforms and foster reconciliation.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa ordered retaliation against the assailants, according to the state news agency. “The people of Bahrain have had enough and have run out of patience over such acts that are strange to the people of Bahrain and their morals,” he said.
The cabinet held an emergency meeting on Thursday and blamed the bombing on “systematic incitement” by clerics.
In his weekly Friday sermon, the island’s leading Shia cleric, Ayatollah Isa Qassim, condemned all violence, whether carried out by loyalists or the opposition.
He also cast doubt on the authorities’ “stories of violence as many have turned out to be untrue”, according to the opposition.
The main Shia opposition group, al-Wefaq, condemned the explosion, describing it as one of several “strange incidents” that are “not related to the political cause in Bahrain”, and reiterated demands for a democratic transition.
Widespread pro-democracy protests broke out in February 2011 and were crushed by the government and its Gulf allies six weeks later.
The authorities have launched several legal and security reforms since an independent commission slammed the police for excessive use of violence.
However, the opposition says repression continues through police brutality and judicial targeting of protesters.
Two-and-a-half years of low-level violence has damaged the strategic Gulf state’s economy as business confidence fails to recover while Bahrain’s regional competitors, such as Dubai, enjoy a strong recovery from the global financial crisis.
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