Manama: Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas and rubber bullets at anti-government demonstrators blocking the highway into the capital`s financial district on Sunday and also surrounded the protesters` main camp in the capital, eyewitnesses said.
Authorities failed to dislodge the thousands of protesters blocking King Faisal Highway in Manama, the capital.
About two miles (about three kilometres) away, police also moved on the Pearl Square protest camp in the largest effort to clear the area since the demonstrations, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, started in mid-February. Another rally at a university on Sunday also reportedly descended into clashes with police.
Mostly Shi’ite protesters in Bahrain are demanding greater political freedoms for their majority population and want the Sunni monarchy to give up its monopoly on power in the strategically important Gulf nation, the home of the US Navy`s 5th Fleet.
On Sunday morning, the protesters blocked a main highway leading to Bahrain`s main financial district in downtown Manama, causing huge traffic chaos during morning rush hour.
Traffic was stalled for miles (kilometres), and police fired tear gas and used heavy vehicles to try to move the protesters and dismantle the barriers they had set up.
The protest prevented many who work in the financial district from reaching their offices on Sunday, the first work day of the week in the Arab world.
"We can`t even get to the Bahrain Financial Harbour," a banker who works inside the office complex said. "The roads are completely blocked. They (the protesters) won`t allow anyone to go in there."
"When we found out the whole thing was blocked, we told employees not to even come to work," the banker said on condition of anonymity because the company has a policy of not commenting publicly on the protests.
Eyewitnesses at Pearl Square said security forces also surrounded the protests` tent compound, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at the activists.
Activists tried to stand their ground and chanted "Peaceful, peaceful”.
Bahrain`s government said in a statement that security forces are conducting "operations to reopen the King Faisal Highway”. Police dispersed about 350 protesters "by using tear gas”, the government said.
The statement did not mention police activity at Pearl Square.
Four people were killed at Pearl Square last month when security forces stormed it just days after the protesters set it up. Three other people were killed at protests aimed at reclaiming the square.
The Shi’ite protesters say they will not leave Pearl Square until they get rights equal to those of Bahrain`s Sunnis and a constitutional monarchy with an elected government.
Others say they will remain at the Pearl Square until the Al Khalifa family, which has ruled for 200 years, leaves altogether.