Tear gas and birdshot fired at demonstrators as violence erupts at protest rallies in Bahrain


Bahraini police fired tear gas and birdshot at demonstrators today, witnesses said, as protests called by activists to press demands for democratic change in the US-allied Gulf kingdom turned violent.

Activists have stepped up a two-and-a-half-year campaign to push the Sunni Muslim ruling family into allowing more democracy in the Shia-majority state of 1.25 million people. Bahrain is an important US regional ally against Shia Iran.

Opposition figures had called in social media for mass rallies in Bahrain, prompting the authorities to tighten security and warn of tough measures and leading the United States to temporarily close its embassy.

There were no reports of serious injury in the clashes that erupted after sunset in a number of Shia villages around the capital of Manama.

In Shakhoora, a village west of the capital Manama, a standoff deteriorated into a clash between police on one side of a barbed wire fence they erected overnight and about 300 demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans on the other.

A Reuters witness said police charged the crowd, firing birdshot and tear gas.

Earlier, a protest of some 100 people ended peacefully in the village of Saar west of Manama without police intervention.

The main opposition Al Wefaq Society said on its website that about 60 protest rallies were held in 40 locations.