Bahrain opposition figure denies backing violence

Associated Press
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Riot police look for Bahraini anti-government protesters during clashes after the funeral for a 17-year-old boy in Bani Jamra, Bahrain, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. Authorities said Ali al-Sabagh was killed when an explosive device he was carrying detonated prematurely as he attempted to stage an attack in the tense Gulf nation. Graffiti on the wall includes, "steadfast, resistance, unity" and a religious verse about fighting injustice. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — A prominent opposition figure in Bahrain told a court hearing Thursday that he rejects violence but stands by his calls for peaceful anti-government protests to force reforms in the troubled Gulf nation.

The arrest of Khalil al-Marzooq last month touched off outrage from international rights groups and prompted Bahrain's Shiite-led opposition to suspend political talks with the Sunni monarchy and its allies.

Bahrain has been gripped by nonstop unrest after the kingdom's Shiite majority began an uprising in early 2011 calling for a greater political voice. Many protesters and other senior opposition figures have been jailed during crackdowns in the strategic island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Al-Marzooq, a top member of the main Shiite political bloc Al Wefaq and a former deputy parliament speaker, faces charges of encouraging violence. He was freed pending the next trial session Nov. 18.

Al-Marzooq told the three-judge panel that he supports peaceful efforts to force political concessions from Bahrain's rulers. But he denied any support for bombings and other attacks, which have been on the rise.

On Wednesday, mourners clashed with police at the funeral for a 17-year-old boy whom authorities said died while carrying explosives. The official Bahrain News Agency said a gun and ammunition was found near the teen's body. Authorities said he was wanted in connection with previous attacks.

Al-Marzooq's supporters claim he was targeted by Bahrain's Western-backed authorities in attempts to punish the opposition after recent criticism from European officials about government clampdowns on dissent.

More than 65 people have died in Bahrain's unrest, but rights groups and others place the death toll higher.