MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Security forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas attacked the headquarters of Bahrain's main Shiite opposition party in the capital on Friday after the group challenged a new government ban on its weekly protests. Police also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of opposition supporters attempting to protest elsewhere in the capital.
"I was really shocked to see tear gas and rubber bullets hit our offices," said vice president of the Al Wefaq party, Sheik Hussain Al Daihi. He said he was inside the building with foreign journalists when the security forces attacked and that a 13-year-old girl among those hurt had a serious injury to her thigh.
Friday's clampdown was the latest episode in 10 months of unrest between Bahrain's Sunni monarchy and an opposition movement led by the country's majority Shiites, who have long complained of discrimination.
"We are a people that won't be broken. All this repression and brutality is the source of our strength and determination to continue the struggle and defend our national rights," Al Daihi said later in a statement.
Authorities banned the weekly Friday protests for the first time since emergency laws were lifted in June. The Interior Ministry "gave silly excuses" to ban the event, including that it would block traffic and endanger others in the area, Al Daihi said.
Defying government orders, Shiite clerics on Friday also held prayer services on the rubble of mosques that had been bulldozed by authorities earlier this year. It was the first time that Shiite clerics have actively taken part in the protest movement, openly defying the government.
The Shiite clerics say at least 38 mosques used by their congregations were destroyed since the protests began in February.
"We will start a campaign to defend our religious sites and the first such activity starts with a protest at the end of the prayer at Diraz grand mosque," senior Shiite cleric Sheik Isa Qassim said during his Friday sermon. Diraz is an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital.
"We demand democracy for one people, Sunni and Shiite, and we understand the approach of the government that aims to divide our people. We are the ones who insist on unity, and because of this we are targeted by the government," he said.
Qassim called on international allies of Bahrain to exert pressure on the government because of what he said was it lack of will to reform.
Bahrain is a key U.S. ally in the Gulf and is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
Since February, at least 40 people have been killed.
Hundreds of activists have been detained and brought to trial on anti-state charges in a special security court set up after authorities imposed marital law and invited a Saudi-led Gulf military force into the country to help deal with dissent in the tiny island kingdom.
Bahrain lifted emergency rule in June. Since then, government opponents have clashed with police almost every night.