Police in Bahrain used tear gas and rubber bullets to force a group of anti-government protesters from a key financial hub, witnesses said.
A large number of officers reportedly fired “dozens” of tear gas canisters to clear the area in front of the Bahrain Financial Harbour, a commercial district in the capital Manama.
Demonstrators have been camped out in front of the site for more than a week, and on Sunday they threatened to form a human chain to block access to the facility.
A number of people were injured in the Sunday morning crackdown and have been taken away in ambulances.
Witnesses say riot police have also encircled Pearl Roundabout, which has been the focal point of protests in Bahrain for nearly a month. They reportedly used tear gas on demonstrators camped in the roundabout.
“They are using tear gas in Lulu [Pearl Roundabout], and the riot police have circled the roundabout,” a witness told AFP news agency. “There were many injured because of the rubber bullets that they used in BFH [Bahrain Financial Harbour].”
Hundreds of protesters are now reportedly moving towards Pearl Roundabout to join the group already there.
Mohammed Al Maskati, the president of the Bahraini Youth Society for Human Rights who was participating in today’s protests, told Al Jazeera that police used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets despite being told it was a peaceful protest.
Al-Maskati said police continued to fire tear gas on people who came to help the protesters following the initial crackdown.
Manama has been paralysed by protests for weeks, with thousands of people, frustrated by unemployment and economic inequality, camped in the main roundabout since mid-February.
The protesters have also staged a number of marches on symbolic targets — the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry, and the state television building, among others.
But the decision to occupy Bahrain Financial Harbour was controversial within Bahrain’s increasingly fractious opposition.
The sit-in outside the harbour was organised by a loose coalition of “youth protesters”. The country’s six formal opposition parties did not endorse the move.
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s interior ministry said eight police were injured during Sunday’s operation to disperse protesters, including removing tents.
There were “eight injuries among policemen… all were transferred to hospital,” the ministry said on its Twitter page after announcing that police had fired tear gas to disperse some 350 protesters.
The ministry urged protesters to “remain in the [Pearl] roundabout for their safety”, insisting the operation was aimed at reopening King Faisal Highway next to the financial centre.
Security forces had avoided the area since February 17 after six protesters were shot dead in a pre-dawn assault. A seventh died later of his wounds.