Bahraini Sunni clerics warn against sectarian strife
MANAMA - Twenty-five Bahraini Sunni clerics issued a statement on Wednesday calling on religious leaders from both Sunni and Shiite communities to work against sectarian strife.
Bahrain, a small but strategic Shiite-majority, Sunni-ruled Gulf kingdom, has been gripped by anti-government protests since February 14. Sectarian clashes were reported on March 3.
"The events that took place in the kingdom recently between some people in a number of sites and schools, and resulted in physical injuries, had left a strong impact on members of the two communities who belong to one nation and religion," the statement said.
It appealed to religious scholars on both sides to guide and caution people from falling into sectarian strife.
And it urged all to remain "brothers in this dear country as we had always been... We appeal to you all to refrain from fomenting sectarian tensions."
The statement was signed by 25 clerics, including Sheikh Abdul Latif al-Mahmud, the leader of the pro-government National Unity Assembly.
Residents of Hamad Town, south of Manama, said police had intervened to break up Sunni-Shiite clashes late on March 3, the first such incident since protests began.
Pro-government daily Al-Ayam said an assault on a young girl who was leaving school provoked the clashes.
Alerted by text messages, supporters from both sides gathered in the area and fought with sticks, before the police intervened with tear gas, said the daily, which reported that two people were injured.
Residents said the Sunnis were Syrians who had been granted Bahraini citizenship.
The main Shiite political formation, the Islamic National Accord Association, said on Tuesday that it and six other opposition groups had held talks on Monday with the National Unity Assembly and agreed on the importance of working against sectarian tension.
Sheikh Ali Salman, who heads the INAA, said on March 4 that he "will consider any attack against anyone in this country as an attack against me."
Slogans calling for Sunni-Shiite unity, such as "no Sunni, no Shiite, unity, Bahraini unity," are frequently chanted at anti-regime marches and rallies.