Middle East
Bahrain 'fires tear gas' at protesters
Rubber bullets and tear gas reportedly fired on protesters calling for a boycott of Saturday's parliamentary vote.
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2011 14:19

Demonstrators in Bahrain have been blocked by security forces in a march toward Pearl roundabout as protests continued ahead of Saturday's planned elections.

Reports from Bahrain claim protesters were proceeding to the central area from villages outside the capital city when they were pushed back by tear gas and rubber bullets.

"The protesters have tried to take to the streets in a number of villages around the country and they have been immediately met with brutal police repression," a source in Bahrain told Al Jazeera on Friday.

"Police have been firing tear gas, rubber bullets, shotgun pellets and other types of objects at protesters who are largely unarmed in these villages.

"Those who are carrying anything are [carrying] stones and maybe paint to throw at police vehicles."

Demonstrators involved in the march toward Pearl roundabout, the centre of the protest movement until government forces tore down the center statue and renamed the intersection, have called for a boycott of parliamentary elections planned for Saturday.

The election will fill 18 parliamentary seats emptied when the country's main Shia opposition party stepped down six months ago to protest an earlier violent government crackdown on demonstrations.

Earlier this year, Shia-led groups had earlier called for demonstrations to press the government for more freedoms from the Sunni monarchy which has ruled the strategically important Gulf island for more than 200 years.

'Under repression'

Protesters on Friday marched to Manama's Pearl Square, the former epicenter of Bahrain's uprising that broke out in February.

A freelance journalist reports from outside Manama

"There are some posters of politicians hanging around places in Manama, the capital, that I've been seeing," the source said.

"But once you get into the villages, which are predominantly the Shia villages in and around the capital, you don't see any support for these politicians, who many are calling 'opportunists'."

Bahraini authorities have stepped up pressure on anti-government activists ahead of the elections, threatening those who use social media and websites to urge acts of dissent with jail.

"There is a class of society under repression and there are obstacles at every turn, blocking their voice," said Sheik Isa Qassim during Friday's sermon.

The cleric told followers in a mosque in Diraz, an opposition stronghold northwest of the capital Manama, that the vote on Saturday is meaningless.

"This is fake democracy," Sheik Isa said.

Nightly clashes

Shia muslims make up a majority of Bahrain's population, but they have long been ruled by a Sunni dynasty which they claim has not provided economic opportunities.

According to human rights groups, more than 30 people have died as a result of the protests in Bahrain.

Hundreds of activists have been detained and brought to trial on anti-state charges in a special security court since March, when Bahrain's rulers imposed martial law and invited a Saudi-led Gulf military force to help put down dissent.

Since Bahrain lifted emergency rule in June, rights groups claim government opponents have clashed with police almost every night.

Manama's Pearl Square has been heavily guarded since Bahrain's security forces stormed the protesters' encampment camp there six months ago.

On Friday, police checkpoints were erected on the streets leading up to the square. Armored police vehicles were seen parked near the former hub of anti-government protests and riot police were lined up behind the vehicles.

The opposition's boycott of Saturday's vote will likely tighten the grip of the kingdom's Sunni rulers, who have so far managed to ride out six months of protests inspired by the Arab Spring.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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