SAR, (Reuters) – Sectarian clashes erupted at a girls’ school in Bahrain on Thursday as the country looked increasingly split between Shi’ites protesting against the government and Sunnis who support it.
The Gulf Arab country has been gripped by the worst unrest since the 1990s since protesters took to the streets last month, inspired by uprisings that unseated entrenched rulers in Egypt and Tunisia.
Witnesses said fighting broke out at a school in the small city of Sar, an area where both Shi’ites and Sunni live, when students launched anti-government protests.
“During the break we went on a peaceful protest, we gathered, a few girls. Next thing we know a group of naturalized people were let into school and the school door was locked, they had iron and wooden sticks and knives,” said one student.
They said parents of pro-government students of naturalized Sunni families came to the school armed with clubs. Parents of Shi’ite parents then also arrived and clashes erupted.
Bahrain’s practice of settling Sunni foreigners serving in its security apparatus is a thorny issue for the Shi’ite opposition. It views it as an attempt by the Sunni ruling family to change the country’s sectarian balance, an accusation the government denies.
It was not clear whether there were any injuries but one witness said he saw an ambulance driving away one girl.
The country saw the first clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite residents last week when at least a hundred residents fought with clubs in Hamad Town, an area where people of both sects live. Several residents were injured.
It was not clear what prompted the clashes that lasted about two hours before police and politicians calmed the situation, but residents said that people of Syrian origin had been involved.