ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Police firing tear gas clashed with hundreds of stone-throwing youths in Bahrain on Saturday in heightened unrest that could complicate new efforts to end political deadlock in the strategically placed Gulf Arab kingdom.
The violence has clouded the atmosphere around talks begun on February 10 between the mostly Shi’ite Muslim opposition and the Sunni Muslim-dominated government to find a way out of the impasse over Shi’ite demands for more democracy.
Witnesses said the confrontation, in which some of the hundreds of opposition demonstrators also threw petrol bombs at police, followed the funeral of a teenager the opposition said was killed in clashes between police and activists on Thursday.
The disturbance in the village of Sanabis west of the capital Manama was the latest in a series of skirmishes between Shi’ite youths and police since Thursday, when opposition activists commemorated the second anniversary of a pro-democracy revolt in the U.S.-allied state.
The kingdom, base for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been in political turmoil since the protests erupted in 2011, led by majority Shi’ites demanding an end to the monarchy’s political domination and full powers for parliament.
Thirty-five people died during the unrest and two months of martial law that followed, the government said, although the opposition puts that number at more than 80. The government has accused opposition groups of being linked to Shi’ite power Iran.
Bahrain remains volatile, and its Shi’ite villages are the scene of almost daily clashes between youths and police.
The next round of talks is meant to happen on Wednesday, February 20, Isa Abdul Rahman, the spokesman for the process, known as the National Dialogue, told Reuters.
The next gathering had been due to take place on Sunday but at a February 13 session of the talks all participants decided to postpone the meeting to February 20, he said.
Earlier on Saturday police found a bomb planted on a busy causeway linking the Gulf island to Saudi Arabia, and four officers were shot and wounded in a village, officials said.
The 2-kg bomb, discovered on Thursday near a mosque on the Bahraini end of the route used by thousands of people a day, was safely defused, according to the Information Authority.
Late on Friday, four officers were hit by birdshot pellets in the Shi’ite village of Karzakan, the authority added, quoting public security chief Major-General Tariq Hassan al-Hassan.
Bahrain denies accusations of discrimination against Shi’ite citizens and accuses Iran of stirring up trouble in the kingdom, something the Islamic Republic denies.
The Interior Ministry said on Thursday a security official had been killed in a “terrorist attack” using what it said was an inflammable projectile, according to a statement on its Twitter account.
(This Clarifies next talks on Feb. 20, not 17; teenager killed on Thursday, not Friday)
Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky and William Maclean; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams