MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahraini security forces set up checkpoints and fired tear gas Friday in apparent efforts to block worshippers from reaching weekly prayers led by a cleric fiercely opposing rulers in the embattled Gulf nation.
The clampdown comes after authorities blamed Shiite religious figures for helping fuel tensions in strategic Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The island kingdom has faced nearly nonstop unrest for 21 months between the Sunni-led government and protesters from the Shiite majority seeking a greater political voice. On Monday, a series of bomb blasts killed two South Asian workers in a sign that some factions are escalating the levels of violence with homemade explosives and firebombs.
More than 55 people have died and hundreds have been arrested in Bahrain's unrest since February 2011.
The security measures kept many people from attending the Friday prayers of Sheik Isa Qassim, who denounced Bahrain's move earlier this week to revoke the citizenship of 31 Shiite activists and lawyers.
"The revoking of citizenship from honorable people is aimed at punishing those who have opposition views," he told worshippers who managed to reach his mosque in a Shiite district outside the capital, Manama.
On Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Washington was "greatly concerned" by the move.
"We have continually called on the government of Bahrain to create a climate that is conducive to reconciliation, to meaningful dialogue, to reform, to bring peaceful change," she said.