Bahraini protesters clash with police over raid on cleric's home

LONDON Fri May 24, 2013 12:31pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of Bahraini Shi'ite Muslims angered by a raid last week on a top cleric's home clashed with police on Friday, while thousands more gathered in the cleric's village for a peaceful sit-in against their Sunni-led government.

The raid by security forces on the home of Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassim on May 17 infuriated the opposition and drew condemnation from neighboring Shi'ite power Iran.

Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, has been in turmoil since mass pro-democracy protests erupted in 2011 and has become a hot spot in a region-wide tussle for influence between Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.

The mass protests were crushed but smaller demonstrations continue, led by Bahrain's Shi'ite majority, who want the Gulf Arab state's Sunni rulers to call elections and create a constitutional monarchy.

The raid on the ayatollah's house prompted main opposition group Al-Wefaq to announce on Wednesday that it would withdraw from reconciliation talks with the government for two weeks.

Protesters in the village of Diraz, west of the capital Manama, threw stones at hundreds of riot police who responded with tear gas and water cannons, a witness said.

The violence continued for more than an hour before the demonstrators dispersed, the witness said.

Protesters at the sit-in, called by Al-Wefaq and authorized by the government, waved Bahraini flags and held up images of Sheikh Issa.

Police say the raid on the cleric's home was not targeted but occurred during a security operation in the same neighborhood.

(Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by David Goodman)

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