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Bahrain: Bus Explodes Near British Embassy

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BAHRAIN BUS EXPLOSION
A police officer stands guard outside the British Embassy compound in Manama, Bahrain, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. (AP) | AP

MANAMA, Bahrain -- A canister containing powerful explosive material blew apart the front of a minibus near the British Embassy in Bahrain's capital on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said. There were no injuries or other serious damage.

Interior Ministry spokesman Salah Salem described the material as "highly explosive" and said it was undergoing further analysis. Authorities gave no details on possible suspects, but security has been boosted sharply across Bahrain during annual Shiite Muslim religious ceremonies.

Bahrain's majority Shiites began an uprising in February seeking greater rights from the Gulf kingdom's Sunni rulers. Some apparent Sunni protesters have jeered or tossed stones at the Shiite religious processions in recent days.

Salem said the blast ripped away one of wheels from the minibus and shattered its windows in a public parking lot about 50 yards (meters) from the British Embassy in the capital, Manama.

It was not immediately clear whether the blast's proximity to the embassy was intentional. It comes less than a week after mobs in Iran's capital stormed the British Embassy and a residential compound for diplomatic staff, leading Britain to pull its diplomats from Iran and expel Iranian envoys from London.

Bahrain's rulers claim Iran has links to Shiite protesters in the strategic Gulf island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Shiite leaders in Bahrain deny any connections to Tehran and an independent commission report into the unrest also found no evidence of ties.

At least 35 people have died in clashes and protest-related violence since February. Hundreds of people have been arrested, including prominent Shiite activists sentenced to life in prison.

On Sunday, a military court sentenced three sportsmen – all Shiite employees of the Bahrain armed forces – to one year each in prison on charges that included disobeying orders to stay away from demonstrations.

The defendants included medal-winning bodybuilder Tareq al-Fursani; Ali Said, a goalkeeper for the national football team, and Mohammed Hassan al-Dirazi, a member of Bahrain's basketball squad, said lawyer Mohsen al-Alawi, who was in court when the court martial sentences were given.

The trial of 61 other athletes and sports officials is scheduled for Jan. 4. They include handball, basketball and volleyball players along with referees and administrators for several sports.

The charges include illegal assembly and inciting hatred against Bahrain's Sunni monarchy.

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