MANAMA (Reuters) - Thousands of Bahraini Shi‘ites clashed with security forces on Friday during the funeral of a man opposition group Wefaq said died after a police assault, witnesses said.
Ali al-Daihi, father of Wefaq’s deputy secretary general Hussein al-Daihi, died on Thursday from wounds he suffered a day earlier when he was attacked by riot police, the group said on its website. The government said he died of natural causes.
Demonstrators clashed with police after Daihi’s body was buried, a Reuters photographer said, adding Shi‘ite protesters chanted anti-government slogans. Police fired tear gas at the demonstrators. No casualties were reported.
Bahrain’s Sunni ruling family brought in troops from Sunni allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates earlier this year to help crush a protest movement they said was fomented by Iran and had Shi‘ite sectarian motives.
Nabeel Rajab, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, said on Twitter that Bahraini police had blocked roads leading to the funeral in the Shi‘ite district of al-Daih.
“I am trying to get there, government blocked all roads so people do not take part in the funeral,” Rajab said.
The United States, whose Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, called on all sides to exercise restraint. It urged the government to be fully transparent in the investigation of what happened to Ali al-Daihi.
“We understand that in connection with the circumstances of the father’s death, the family has now filed a criminal complaint with the Bahraini police,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.
“We, the U.S., would encourage full transparency as this case proceeds and we obviously call on everybody to exercise restraint,” she added. “It is a fragile time in Bahrain as all sides wait for the Bahraini independent commission of inquiry report.”
The head of the commission, which was set up to investigate allegations of human rights violations in Bahrain during months of unrest, on Monday was quoted as saying that he had found evidence of systematic torture.
Wefaq said the elder Daihi was attacked by riot police when he was returning home on Wednesday.
“The assault left a deep wound in his head, bruises to his forehead, a cut near his eye and blood gushing from his mouth,” it said in a statement on Friday.
The government’s Information Affairs Authority (IAA) said Daihi died of natural causes and that the Health Ministry had denied Wefaq’s claim of a violent attack.
“He had reportedly fainted at home and injured his lower lip, according to a Health Ministry source,” the IAA said.
Bahrain is hoping to conclude an arms deal with the United States but the purchase could hinge on the results of the commission investigating this year’s unrest and claims by Shi‘ites of abuse they suffered during martial law.
Reporting by Hamad al-Mohammed; Writing by Mahmoud Habboush