Riot police in Bahrain have used tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to force a group of hundreds of anti-government protesters from blocking the capital’s financial district.
A large number of officers reportedly fired “dozens” of tear gas canisters in an attempt to clear the area in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbour on Sunday, but protesters refused to fall back.
Footage of the scene on the video-sharing website Youtube showed one protester apparently being shot with a teargas canister at close range.
A number of people injured in the crackdown were taken away in ambulances.
Demonstrators have been camped out in front of the Financial Harbour site for more than a week, and on Sunday had threatened to form a human chain to block access to the facility.
Riot police also encircled demonstrators at Pearl Roundabout, the focal point of protests in Bahrain for nearly a month, firing tear gas canisters, according to witnesses.
“They are using tear gas in Lulu [Pearl Roundabout], and the riot police have circled the roundabout,” a witness told Al Jazeera. “There were [also] many injured because of the rubber bullets that they used in BFH [Bahrain Financial Harbour].”
Mohammed Al Maskati, the president of the Bahraini Youth Society for Human Rights who was participating in the protests, told Al Jazeera that police used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets despite being told it was a peaceful protest.
He said that the police continued to fire tear gas on people who came to help the protesters following the initial crackdown.
Also on Sunday, a protest at the main university in Bahrain descended into violence with security forces and government supporters clashing with students, according to an Associated Press report.
Call for dialogue
The United States condemned the violence in Bahrain.
“We urge the government of Bahrain to pursue a peaceful and meaningful dialogue with the opposition rather than resorting to the use of force,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said.
Amid the protests, Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, Bahrain’s crown prince, renewed his call for national dialogue on Sunday, promising talks would address key demands such as bolstering the power of parliament and that any deal could be put to a referendum.
In a statement read on Bahrain TV, he said talks would also cover electoral and governmental reforms, as well as looking into claims of corruption and sectarianism.
“We have worked actively to establish contacts to learn the views of various sides … which shows our commitment to a
comprehensive and inclusive national dialogue,” the statement said.
Manama has been paralysed by protests for weeks, with thousands of people, frustrated by unemployment and economic inequality, camped in the main roundabout since mid-February.
The protesters have also staged a number of marches on symbolic targets – the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry, and the state television building, among others.
But the decision to occupy Bahrain Financial Harbour was controversial within Bahrain’s increasingly fractious opposition.
The sit-in outside the harbour was organised by a loose coalition of “youth protesters”. The country’s six formal opposition parties did not endorse the move.
Bahrain’s interior ministry said eight police were injured during Sunday’s operation to disperse protesters, including removing tents.
There were “eight injuries among policemen … all were transferred to hospital,” the ministry said on its Twitter page after announcing that police had fired tear gas to disperse some 350 protesters.
The ministry urged protesters to “remain in the [Pearl] roundabout for their safety”, insisting the operation was aimed at reopening King Faisal Highway next to the financial centre.
Security forces had avoided the area after six protesters were shot dead in a pre-dawn assaulton February 17. A seventh died later of his wounds.