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Manama: Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at dozens of anti-government protesters in the Bahraini capital who defied a ban on unauthorised demonstrations and marched in the city centre on Friday.
Armoured vehicles and riot police closed off some of the main roads leading into the city but protesters still made it to Friday’s march, which had been called by Bahrain’s main opposition bloc Al Wefaq. A slogan on Twitter for the protest declared ‘freedom for prisoners of conscience’.
Last week, a march attended by tens of thousands of demonstrators that had also been organised by Al Wefaq together with other opposition groups and which the authorities had approved passed without incident.
The protesters, who came in small groups to the old quarter of Manama, were prevented from converging on a main road where they intended to march.
Some of the people who turned up for the protests carried banners reading ‘Freedom for the prisoners’ and ‘We want an independent judiciary’, according to witnesses, who said Shaikh Ali Salman, the head of Al Wefaq, was present.
The Interior Ministry said the protest was prohibited and that any participants were breaking the law.
The protesters aimed to demonstrate against a recent appeals court verdict upholding jail sentences against 13 leading activists, including seven facing life in prison.
On Tuesday, a Bahraini civilian court upheld jail sentences of between five and 25 years against leaders of last year’s pro-democracy uprising, a decision that has led to sporadic protests in the country. Al Wefaq condemned the ruling.
Opposition parties led by Al Wefaq are demanding full powers for the elected parliament to legislate and form governments. Al Wefaq mainly espouses the interests of the Shiite section of the population which complains of being politically and economically marginalised, a charge the government denies.
Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based, saw protests erupt in February 2011 during a wave of uprisings against governments across the Arab world.