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Thu 8 Dec 2011 11:01 AM

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Bahrain police, activists trade blame over death

Bahraini woman died after being struck in the head during rioting, say police

Bahrain police, activists trade blame over death
Flashback to Bahrains political uprising in February

A Bahraini woman has died after being struck in the head during unrest, police said on Wednesday, blaming protesters for her death, but rights activists expressed doubt over the official explanation.

"A Bahraini lady who was injured in the head by an iron rod hurled by a vandal during rioting in al-Daih on 18 November died today," the Ministry of Interior said in its Twitter feed.

Rights activists named her as Zahra Saleh and said it was not clear who was responsible for the fatal injury. They say there were clashes with police in al-Daih on the same day.

Videos circulated by online activists appear to show Saleh with a metal rod lodged in her head.

"We don't have details about the incident. There are no witnesses from the village," said Mohammed Al-Maskati, head of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

"We have a video showing security forces carrying rods, but no evidence of who the attacker was, or if she was participating in protests or not. There were protests at the time."

Bahrain saw mass protests earlier this year demanding democratic reforms.

Its ruling Al-Khalifa family called in help from Saudi and other Gulf Arab security forces as it cracked down on protests and imposed martial law, saying Shi'ite power Iran was fomenting sectarian discord via its Bahraini co-religionists.

The ruling family is Sunni and most of the protesters came from the majority Shi'ite population.

A fact-finding commission led by international lawyers issued a hard-hitting report last month that said torture of detainees was systematic.

Bahrain has said it will implement the report's recommendations, and hired US and British police chiefs to lead reforms of policing techniques. It hosts the US Fifth Fleet and hopes to secure a large US arms deal soon.

Clashes continue daily in Shi'ite villages, with no political resolution in sight. Opposition parties say the government should resign. They declined to join a committee formed by the government to look into the report's findings.

The report says 35 people died in unrest up to April 15. Activists say the total has since reached 47.