Manama: Bahraini security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters marching on Friday in support of a jailed human rights activist whose nearly two-month hunger strike has become a powerful rallying point for the tiny nation`s Shi’ite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy.
"Freedom or martyrdom," cried marchers who carried portraits of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, whose declining health has brought appeals for international intervention from groups such as Amnesty International.
Al-Khawaja and seven other opposition leaders were sentenced to life in prison in June after being convicted of anti-state crimes. Bahrain`s Shi’ite majority began an uprising nearly 14 month ago against the political controls of the Sunni monarchy, which remains backed by its Western allies and holds strategic ties such as hosting the US Navy`s 5th Fleet.
Security forces used tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades at the crowds as they moved toward the heavy fortifications ringing Pearl Square in the capital Manama, which was the initial hub of the protests last year before being raided by riot police and troops.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
The rallies followed a strongly worded sermon by Bahrain`s most senior Shi’ite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, who predicted the unrest could "get out of control" if al-Khawaja dies in custody.
Al-Khawaja holds Danish citizenship, and officials in Copenhagen have urged Bahraini authorities to allow him to travel to Denmark for medical treatment.
Earlier on Friday, al-Khawaja`s daughter, Zainab, was transferred to prison after her arrest during protests for her father, said lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi. Bahrain police allege she attacked a public official.