MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) -- A senior Bahraini opposition figure was cleared of all charges Wednesday in a closely watched case linked to political unrest in the strategic Gulf island nation.
Khalil al-Marzooq, a former deputy parliament speaker, faced allegations of instigating violence and having links to a protest faction that authorities blame for bombings and other attacks. He is a prominent member of al-Wefaq, the main political bloc of Bahrain's Shiite majority.
Lawyer Jalila al-Sayed said al-Marzooq was acquitted following a brief hearing. Al-Marzooq smiled as he left the courthouse and said he expected a travel ban put in place after charges were brought against him last year will be lifted.
"I have been innocent from the first day and was expecting this. I will continue to serve Bahrain and its people" he told journalists after the acquittal.
Bahrain is a Western ally that is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. It has faced low-level unrest, including street clashes between anti-government protesters and police, since its majority Shiites led large-scale protests against the Sunni monarchy in 2011.
The allegations against al-Marzooq exacerbated tensions between the opposition and the government. The country's main Shiite groups suspended participation in reconciliation talks with the Sunni-led government after his detention in September.
Brian Dooley, director of the human rights defenders program at U.S.-based Human Rights First, hailed al-Marzooq's acquittal as a "a rare piece of good news from Bahrain" while noting that other political activists remain behind bars.
"If real dialogue is ever to begin it will have to include opposition figures beyond al-Wefaq," Dooley said.
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