Bahrain has released a detained ex-army captain, a Sunni Muslim, who joined protests led mainly by the country's Shi'ite majority earlier this year. - AP Photo

MANAMA: Bahrain has released a detained ex-army captain who joined pro-democracy protests that hit the Gulf island kingdom earlier this year, activists said on Monday.

Mohammed Buflasa, a Sunni Muslim who joined the protests led mostly by the country’s Shi’ite majority, was arrested in February after he gave a speech at the Pearl Roundabout, the epicentre of the demonstrations until Bahrain’s Sunni rulers crushed them in March.

Buflasa returned home late on Sunday, and waved from the roof of his home to clapping crowds chanting his name, You Tube videos showed. Some of those present at the celebrations told Reuters the gathering had both Sunnis and Shi’ites present.

“Everybody was chanting ‘Shi’ite, Sunni are brothers’ and ‘We will not kill this country’... He (Buflasa) was crying and waving out to people,” said 28-year-old Mahmoud, who declined to give his last name.

Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, says the mass protests in February and March had a sectarian agenda backed by Shi’ite power Iran, just across Gulf waters.

The opposition denies this and points to secular parties and Sunni participants like Buflasa to argue that its demands were related to democratic reforms.

Witnesses said hundreds of people were cheering Buflasa’s return to Hamad Town, near the capital Manama, until police firing tear gas broke up the celebrations.

Before the gathering was broken up, they said he gave a speech warning against sectarianism that could threaten democratic reforms.

“He said the country should not be divided, Shi’ites and Sunnis have the same demands,” Mahmoud said.

Tensions have been simmering in the tiny Gulf Arab state, and protests have erupted daily in Shi’ite villages ringing the capital ever since emergency law was lifted in June.

The government has tried to address international criticism, including from its US ally, of its four-month-old crackdown by setting up a panel of international lawyers and human rights experts to investigate its handling of the unrest.

The commission earlier on Sunday said it planned to probe the army’s handling of the protests and would look into detainees’ claims of torture.

The government has said there is no systematic abuse in its prisons and that it will investigate any charges.

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