Bahraini police clashed with Shi`ite marchers in a religious festival late on Sunday, less than a week after the Gulf kingdom repealed an emergency law that quashed weeks of protests.
Residents and leading Shi`ite opposition group Wefaq said police used tear gas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and birdshot to break up marches in several Shi`ite villages around the capital Manama.
Some of the gatherings were purely religious, residents said, while others took on a political tone as marchers shouted “Down, down (King) Hamad” and “The people want the fall of the regime.”
Residents said several people were wounded in the village of Sitra, and a house had been set ablaze as clashes there continued.
“We condemn this attack, this kind of attack will make the situation even worse,” said Sayyed Hady, of Wefaq. “This event is so, so normal in Bahrain, we`ve been doing it for centuries … the authorities said they won`t attack religious events, but this is what they did.”
The unrest comes just two days after the tiny island kingdom`s Formula One Grand Prix was reinstated. Its original March date had been postponed due to widespread protests at the time.
In March, Bahrain`s Sunni rulers called in troops from neighbouring Sunni led Gulf Arab countries to quash weeks of protests led mostly by members of its majority Shi`ite population who were demanding democratic reforms. Hardliners had called for a republic.
Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy`s Fifth Fleet, has said the Saudi and Emirati forces would remain in the country indefinitely to help face a perceived threat from Shi`ite Muslim power Iran, across a short stretch of water from Bahrain.
A government official denied any widespread clashes around Manama on Sunday.
“There are no clashes really, there were some outlaws who caused some problems but these were small incidents that were quickly stopped. The situation is stable and back to normal,” he told Reuters.
Reuters journalists were unable to verify the reports, as police set up checkpoints sealing off many Shi`ite areas. But shouts could be heard and tear gas was smelt in several areas.
Shi`ite villagers, some beating their chests and chanting religious verses as they marched through the streets, were marking the festival of Azza, which commerates the death of one of the 12 Imams, of their Shi`ite faith.