March 25, 2011 / 1:53 PM / 6 years ago

Bahrain minister points to Iran link to unrest

GENEVA (Reuters) - A Bahraini minister accused demonstrators Friday of having a "foreign agenda," running over unarmed policemen in cars and beating up patients in a major hospital.

Fatima al Beloushi, minister for social development, said the demonstrators had links to a neighboring country and Hezbollah, but stopped short of naming non-Arab Shi'ite Iran as being behind the unrest in the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom.

Bahrain's government was investigating the violence, in which 19 had been killed and hundreds injured, she said.

Riots police dispersed protesters from a roundabout and took over a hospital in the tiny island kingdom last week after weeks of unrest.

"What we have discovered after the government took over the roundabout and took back the hospital, we found out that those people who were doing it were instigated by a foreign country and by Hezbollah," al Beloushi told a news conference in Geneva.

"We have direct proof. Hezbollah has provided training for their people. They were serving a foreign agenda and that is why it was not something for having a better livelihood. They were fulfilling an outside political agenda," she said.

Thousands of Bahrainis turned out for a sermon of a major Shi'ite cleric Friday ahead of "Day of Rage" protests planned across the Gulf Arab country despite a ban imposed under martial law.

Al Beloushi said the kingdom was investigating the violence and its causes but rejected allegations that its security forces had used excessive force, instead putting the blame on the protesters.

"The demonstrators occupied the (Salmaniyah) hospital, they were beating up the patients, they were attacking the ambulance," she said. "They used ambulances later on to transfer weapons, to transfer demonstrators just for their purposes."

"It is totally the opposite, they were running over police officers and killing them while the country tried to be as peaceful as it can with them."

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Hemming

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