MANAMA Anti-government demonstrators throwing petrol bombs clashed with police who fired tear gas and birdshot in Bahrain on Thursday following a funeral procession in a Shi'ite Muslim village south of the capital Manama, witnesses said.
The tiny Gulf Arab monarchy, a U.S. ally, has suffered sporadic unrest since an uprising led by its Shi'ite Muslim community in early 2011 demanding reforms and a bigger share of power in the Sunni-led government.
Thursday's violence in the village of al-Eker outside the capital Manama came ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix, an annual event that draws international attention to Bahrain.
The 2011 turmoil forced the cancellation of the race, but the event went ahead in 2012 and 2013, despite continuing unrest. This year's race is due to take place on April 4-6.
Witnesses said that more than 100 young men, some throwing petrol bombs, skirmished with the police after the funeral of Hussein Sharaf, a Bahraini who died on Tuesday in a fire at his home. Police used tear gas and birdshot to disperse the crowd.
The witnesses also said that the sounds of several explosions were heard in al-Eker following the funeral, but there was no immediate explanation for that.
Police had no immediate comment on the incidents.
The kingdom, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, quelled the uprising in 2011 with help from forces from neighboring Sunni power Saudi Arabia.
But intermittent protests have continued and security forces have come under attack from home-made bombs. One of three blasts last month killed three policemen, including one from the United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain has accused Shi'ite power Iran across the Gulf of fomenting the unrest. Iran denies having links to Bahrain's opposition or any hand in the violence, but says it is supportive of Shi'ites there.
(Reporting by Farishta Saeed, Writing by Amena Bakr, Editing by William Maclean, Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)