DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahraini security forces killed a teenager on Thursday, an opposition website said, as activists demonstrated on the second anniversary of an uprising to demand democratic reforms in the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab state.
The protests could mar reconciliation talks that began on Sunday between mostly Shi‘ite Muslim opposition groups and the Sunni-dominated government to try to end political deadlock in the island kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Bahrain had seen almost daily demonstrations in the run-up to the anniversary of the revolt that has turned the country into a front line in a region-wide tussle for influence between Shi‘ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Arab states such as Saudi Arabia.
Mass protests that erupted in February 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring were crushed. But small demonstrations continue on an almost daily basis to demand greater rights for Bahrain’s Shi‘ite majority and an end to the absolute power of the Sunni ruling family.
Witnesses said the violence began early in the morning with groups of youths from mostly Shi‘ite villages around the capital Manama blocking roads with barricades and using stones, fire-bombs and iron rods in clashes with security forces. At least three policemen were injured.
Security forces responded with tear gas and birdshot, the witnesses said.
The website of the main opposition group Wefaq said Ali Ahmed Ibrahim al-Jazeeri, a 16-year-old Shi‘ite, died from injuries to the abdomen in the village of Diya, near Manama.
It posted pictures of some of the casualties, including a photograph of the dead youth with bandages on his abdomen.
Dozens of people were also hurt in the violence, some by tear gas and others more seriously, it said.
“Large numbers of armoured vehicles, police cars and buses, convoys of military vehicles and troops deployed in the areas ... to face the peaceful protests demanding freedom and democracy,” Wefaq said in a report describing police deployments in areas of Sitra island, south of Manama.
The government’s information department confirmed a 16-year-old boy had been brought to the Salmaniya Medical Complex in the capital Manama at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and pronounced dead on arrival.
“The cause of death is as yet unknown. The case has been referred to the public prosecution and a thorough investigation is being conducted,” it said in a statement, urging people to remain calm and “not to spread unfounded rumours”.
The Interior Ministry said rioters had blocked a number of roads, and security forces were seeking to restore order. The state news agency BNA said masked people forced a number of schools to close down and chained their doors to prevent students and staff from getting in.
An international inquiry commission said in a report in November 2011 that 35 people had died during Bahrain’s uprising. The dead were mainly protesters but included five security personnel and seven foreigners. The report said five people had died from torture.
The opposition puts the death toll at more than 80.
Bahrain’s opposition and government resumed reconciliation talks on Sunday for the first time since July 2011.
Officials said delegates had agreed at Wednesday’s session on some ground rules for the talks, including the role of government representatives and mechanisms for implementing any agreement, paving the way for further sessions next week.
The Shi‘ite-dominated opposition wants a constitutional monarchy and a greater say in the running of Bahrain, including an end to what it says are decades of discrimination against Shi‘ites, especially in the security forces.
The government denies there is discrimination. (Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Jon Hemming)