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Sat 17 Dec 2011 11:10 AM

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Bahraini police fire tear gas in clash with protesters

Several people injured in Shi'ite villages outside Manama, says opposition group

Bahraini police fire tear gas in clash with protesters
A Bahraini Shiite girl makes the victory sign during an anti-government rally

Bahraini police fired tear gas and clashed with Shi'ite Muslim protesters on Friday, a day after a man was run over and killed as he fled security forces chasing protesters near Manama, the opposition and a rights group said on Friday.

Tensions have been high in Bahrain since security forces crushed weeks of pro-democracy street protests by the Gulf kingdom's majority Shi'ite Muslims in March.

The police fired tear gas and sound grenades to disperse protesters, and several people were injured during the clashes which went on for several hours in different Shi'ite villages outside the capital Manama, said Matar Matar, a member of the Shi'ite al Wefaq political bloc.

Doha-based Al Jazeera television aired footage of riot police firing tear gas at protesters.

"Many were injured because of excessive force," Matar told Reuters over the telephone. "Many have head injuries which indicates there is an intention to hurt them."

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) said demonstrator Ali-Ahmed al-Qassab was trying to flee intelligence officers during clashes between hundreds of mainly Shi'ite protesters and riot police on Thursday when a speeding car hit him. His funeral will be held on Saturday.

"The regime prefers using force and killing people instead of instituting reforms that the people are asking for," Nabeel Rajab, the head of BCHR, told Reuters.

An interior ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Protesters took to the streets in February demanding a bigger role for elected representatives and less power for ruling al-Khalifa family, who are Sunni Muslims. Some Shi'ite groups sought an end to the monarchy altogether.

Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet and faces Shi'ite giant Iran on the other side of the Gulf. Iran has denied Bahraini government accusations it has incited the protests.

A government-appointed commission of international jurists found evidence of systematic abuses against detained protesters.

There has been no progress on talks between the government and opposition groups on political reform, and sectarian tensions continue to dog the Gulf Arab island state.

Also on Thursday, police detained Zainab al-Khawaja, a human rights activist and daughter of a prominent opposition leader, after she joined the protesters, many of whom chanted slogans against King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Rajab said.

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