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Five Killed, Hundreds Arrested In Bahrain At Shi'ite Protest; Iran Blames Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump met with Bahrain's King Hamad and other Persian Gulf royalty during his visit to Saudi Arabia

At least five people were killed and hundreds arrested in Bahrain on May 23 after police stormed a sit-in by protesters supporting the kingdom's top Shi'ite cleric, Bahrain's interior ministry said.

Police said they arrested nearly 300 people at the protest in Diraz, near the capital of Manama, as they demonstrated outside the home of cleric Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain's majority Shi'ite community.

Human rights groups condemned the deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called it the "first concrete result" of U.S. President Donald Trump "cozying up to despots" in Saudi Arabia two days earlier -- "emboldening the Bahrain regime."

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran in the past for interfering in the Gulf kingdom and plotting to finance and arm some elements in the Shiite community.

Trump met with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa at a summit in Riyadh over the weekend and told him there "has been a little strain" in U.S.- Bahraini relations "but there won't be strain with this administration."

The tiny Gulf state is a key ally of the United States and is home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, but the administration of former President Barack Obama frequently scolded Manama over rights concerns.

The Bahraini ministry said it apprehended fugitives who had escaped from the Jau prison among the 286 people it arrested at the protest, and several of the "outlaws" were carrying hand grenades and knives.

"A large number of them were hiding in the residence of Isa Qassim," it said, adding that several members of the security force were injured.

The Bahrain authorities have accused Qassim of serving promoting "sectarianism and violence," and sentenced him on May 21 to a suspended one-year jail term on charges of illegal fundraising and money laundering.

Qassim faces expulsion from the kingdom after authorities revoked his citizenship last year for alleged links to Iran and fomenting violence, charges he has denied.

The government's campaign against Qassim has sparked repeated sit-ins outside his residence in Diraz since last June.

Bahraini authorities say Iran is behind the unrest in the kingdom, which has been ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty. Tehran has denied any involvement.

The government's clampdown on dissent drew harsh condemnation from international rights groups on May 23.

Human Rights Watch said the Diraz raid was a crackdown on free expression. It said there was no coincidence it occurred two days after a "convivial" meeting between Trump and King Hamad.

Amnesty International called for an independent investigation into the security forces' use of "excessive force" against protesters it said were mostly peaceful.

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, based in Britain, said Trump's remarks to Hamad over the weekend had effectively given the king "a blank check to continue the repression of his people."

It said the United States has "blood on its hands" for supplying arms to Bahrain despite what it called an "intensified repressive campaign on civil society in Bahrain."

The kingdom has been rocked by unrest since 2011, when local authorities backed by a Saudi military force crushed Shi'ite protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Dozens of civilian protesters have been killed since 2011 and around 10 policemen have died.

Manama has imprisoned dozens of Shi'ites accused of taking part in demonstrations and stripped at least 316 Bahrainis of their citizenship since 2012, according to Amnesty.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Reuters