DUBAI (Reuters) - An improvised bomb wounded four Bahraini policemen on Saturday, a commander said, as police clashed again with protesters demanding the release of a jailed rights activist on hunger strike.
Unrest has racked Bahrain for more than a year, with mainly majority Shi‘ite protesters demanding more democracy and an end to what they see as discrimination in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.
“The officers were dealing with saboteurs who were terrorizing citizens ... and damaging public and private property,” Public Security Chief Major-General Tariq al-Hassan told the state-run Bahrain News Agency.
One policeman was critically wounded by the early morning blast in the village of Bani Jamra, west of the capital Manama, and the others suffered burns, Hassan said.
Protests to demand the release of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja have been taking place daily across the Gulf Arab island state, which crushed mass street protests last year with the help of troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Khawaja has been on hunger strike for three months, according to his family.
Protests were held later on Saturday in the northern Samaheej area, with riot police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators, residents said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Also on Saturday, authorities detained Nabeel Rajab, a prominent activist who heads the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, at Manama airport as he returned from Beirut, the Interior Ministry said on its Twitter page, adding that he was wanted under a prosecution order for unspecified reasons.
Saudi Arabia said on Saturday it had received requests for financial aid from Bahrain under a facility set up by Gulf Arab states during the Arab uprisings last year.
“We are now discussing (last year’s aid pledge) and we have actually received some requests... from Bahrain, and we will be finalizing the finance package with them,” Finance Minister Ibrahim Alassaf told reporters after a meeting of finance ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh.
The six-member bloc agreed last year to give $10 billion to Oman and Bahrain, two of its members that faced unrest inspired by uprisings which have toppled four Arab autocrats.
Western human rights groups say Khawaja and 13 other opposition figures in prison for their role in last year’s protests are prisoners of conscience and should be freed.
Last month the Formula One grand prix returned to Bahrain despite protests. Last year it was postponed, reinstated and then cancelled due to the uprising and bloody crackdown.
Bahrain’s king ratified constitutional reforms on Thursday that the government hopes will help end a year of protests, but the main opposition party denounced them as inadequate and said the struggle for democratic reforms would continue in the island state, which hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Writing by Firouz Sedarat; Editing by Andrew Roche