Tear gas fired in Bahrain clashes

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Bahraini anti-government demonstrators run during clashes in Manama (AP)

Soldiers in Bahrain have fired tear gas and shot weapons into the air as thousands of protest marchers defied a government ban and streamed towards the landmark square that has been the symbolic centre of the uprising against the Gulf nation’s leaders.

Hospital officials said at least 20 people were injured in the unrest, some seriously.

Ambulance sirens can be heard throughout the capital Manama a day after riot police swept through the protest encampment in Pearl Square, killing at least five people and injuring more than 230.

Witnesses reported seeing army units shooting apparent warning shots above the protesters and attempting to drive them back from security cordons about 200 yards from the square.

The clash came just hours after funeral mourners and worshippers at Friday prayers called for the toppling of the Western-allied monarchy in the tiny island nation, which is home to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

The cries against King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his inner circle – at a main Shia mosque and at burials for those killed in Thursday’s crushing attack – reflect an important escalation of the political uprising, which began with calls to weaken the Sunni monarchy’s power and address claims of discrimination against the Shia majority.

The mood, however, appears to have turned towards defiance of the entire ruling system after the brutal crackdown on a protest encampment in Manama, which led the government to put the nation under emergency-style footing with military forces in key areas and checkpoints on main roads.

“The regime has broken something inside of me. All of these people gathered have had something broken in them,” said Ahmed Makki Abu Taki at the funeral for his 23-year-old brother Mahmoud, who was killed in the pre-dawn sweep through the protest camp in Pearl Square.

“We used to demand for the prime minister to step down, but now our demand is for the ruling family to get out.”

The White House has expressed “strong displeasure” about the rising tensions in Bahrain. The 5th Fleet is the centrepiece of the Pentagon’s efforts to confront growing Iranian military ambitions in the region.

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