Bahrain: 9 police hurt in car assault

Nine police officers were injured Tuesday after being hit by a car during a clash with suspected protesters, authorities said, in a sign that a military-led crackdown has failed to quell months of unrest in the strategic island kingdom.

The report by the official Bahrain News Agency is part of stepped up efforts by the nation's Sunni rulers to draw attention to alleged violence by Shiite-led protesters, who began an uprising to demand greater rights in February.

The report said a car was intentionally driven into the policemen by the brother of an injured "rioter" in a mostly Shiite district. Nine police were injured, four seriously, the report said. The driver was also hurt.

Authorities brought journalists and photographers into a hospital ward to view two of the policeman they claimed were injured in the attack. The injured men did not speak to reporters, and their names were not given by officials.

The report came as senior U.S. diplomats met with Bahrain's foreign and justice ministers, urging them to open dialogue with the opposition in the nation that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg held talks with Bahrain's foreign and justice minister, the country's state news agency reported. In the talks, Steinberg stressed the importance of "full respect" for human rights and "urged all parties to pursue a path of reconciliation and comprehensive political dialogue."

Earlier, Bahrain's parliament accepted the resignations of the last seven lawmakers of the Shiite opposition who stepped down to protest the crackdowns.

The lawmakers' resignation were submitted in February, but had not been approved by parliament. The resignations of 11 other Shiite opposition members of parliament were previously accepted.

Bahrain's 40-member lower house of parliament is now left with 22 lawmakers and is controlled by Sunnis. Elections to replace the 18 empty seats are scheduled for September.

The lower house was created in 2002 under a new constitution aimed at easing Shiite complaints of perceived second-class status. There is also an upper house of parliament, whose 40 members are appointed by the king.

Shiites make up about 70 percent of the population in a kingdom ruled by a 200-year-old Sunni dynasty, but are largely excluded from top government and security posts.

Bahraini authorities have been seeking to prosecute opposition leaders and other protesters perceived to be linked to clashes and protests.

A special security court set up under martial law sentenced four people to death last month for killing two policemen during the unrest. It is also trying 21 mostly Shiite opposition leaders and political activists accused of plotting against the state.