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Bahrain clashes before Shiite cleric court hearing

DUBAI: Clashes erupted between police and protesters in Bahrain before a hearing in the trial of a leading Shiite cleric accused of illegal collection of funds and money laundering, witnesses said Monday.

Security forces in the Sunni-ruled Gulf island state fired tear gas and buckshot at hundreds of demonstrators overnight in several Shiite villages around the capital Manama protesting the trial of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the witnesses said.

“With our soul, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you Qassim,” crowds chanted, some holding pictures of the cleric.

Qassim was not in court for Monday’s brief session which was held under tight security in the capital. The next session was scheduled for February 12, a judicial source said.

Hundreds of Shiites have been arrested and put on trial since security forces backed by Saudi-led troops crushed in March 2011 month-long protests that demanded democratic reforms.

The interior ministry in June stripped Qassim, 75, of his Bahraini nationality and accused him of abusing his position as a cleric to “serve foreign interests and promote… sectarianism and violence.”

He is also accused of misappropriating funds.

His trial has drawn criticism from rights groups as well as Shiite Iran.

Agence France-Presse