Protesters clashed with Bahraini riot police on Monday after the funeral of a teenager who died last week in police custody, part of worsening violence in the run-up to the anniversary of a failed pro-democracy uprising.
Many residents of Sitra, a town inhabited mainly by members of the Gulf Arab state’s Shiite Muslim majority, were doused in tear gas as police faced off against youths who blocked roads, set tires alight and threw gasoline bombs.
The clashes followed the funeral of Mohammed Ibrahim Yacoub, a 19-year-old who police said died last week from complications resulting from sickle cell disease.
Protesters say he was beaten up by riot police, who stamped on him and beat him with batons after his arrest. They said his body showed bruising, abrasions and a cut.
Bahrain has been in turmoil since protesters inspired by revolts in Tunisia and Egypt took to the streets last year to demand democratic reforms in an island state dominated by the ruling Al Khalifa family.
The Sunni Muslim monarchy imposed martial law and invited Saudi and United Arab Emirates troops to crush the uprising in March last year. Persistent clashes in Shiite villages have become more violent in recent weeks, ahead of the Feb. 14 anniversary of the first protests.
A commission of international rights lawyers charged by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa with investigating the protests and crackdown said 35 people died up to the end of martial law in June.
The opposition say that figure has risen to more than 60 with a spate of deaths related to the violence since December.
“The signs say that the tyrant’s day is approaching,” thousands of mourners chanted at the funeral.
“People have decided to step up the use of Molotov cocktails because of the abuse they are suffering,” said a 25-year-old law student who gave her name as Umm Zahra.
The government says the protesters are hooligans who are holding up the economic recovery of the state. The interior minister proposed legislation this week that would increase the punishment for attacking police to a maximum of 15 years in jail.
Bahrain is a key ally of the US in its face-off with Iran over its nuclear energy program, and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.
The US is selling some military equipment to Bahrain as it walks a fine line between pushing the Sunni monarchy to open talks with the opposition, while proceeding cautiously with a strategic ally to counter Iran.
The sale of an undisclosed amount of spare parts and equipment has drawn opposition from some in the US Congress, who argue that it sends the wrong signal about the US’ commitment to human rights.