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Police, protesters battle in Bahrain's streets after boy's death

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Clashes extend into Thursday following boy's death
  • NEW: Street battles reported around and outside Manama
  • The dead boy's father calls for human rights groups to act
  • Protests demanding political reform and greater freedoms began in February

Sitra, Bahrain (CNN) -- Clashes between police and Shiite Muslims in Bahrain stretched into Thursday morning, fueled by the killing of a 14-year-old boy by riot police in earlier demonstrations.

The government of the Persian Gulf island state said it would "await a full investigation" by the Interior Ministry before drawing any conclusions about the death early Wednesday of Ali Jawad al-Sheikh. Several witnesses said they saw the boy collapse after a tear-gas round was fired directly at him by riot police who were chasing al-Sheikh and other protesters in Sitra, southwest of the capital Manama.

But the Interior Ministry said no clashes were taking place at the time when the boy was injured, saying that the last reported incident of unrest in the area was around 1:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Public prosecutors have already begun examining the incident, according to a statement from Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, and it would also fall under the authority of the Independent Commission of Inquiry set up by Bahrain's King Hamad in June to investigate reports of human rights abuses.

Clashes broke out on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr festival for many Shiites in Bahrain, one of several countries embroiled in anti-government protests across the Middle East and North Africa this year. By the early hours of Thursday, they had spread to most Shiite villages and parts of Manama.

Police responded heavily to street fights in three districts near the Pearl Roundabout, the epicenter of anti-government protests that began in February, witnesses said. Bahrain demolished the landmark Pearl Monument at the center of the plaza in March after it became a symbol of the demonstrations.

Protests have lingered for months despite a crackdown by Bahrain's Sunni monarchy, backed by troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More than 30 people have been killed the crackdown, in which activists say Bahraini security forces used live ammunition. Opposition groups say more than 1,000 people -- mainly Shiites -- have been detained and more than 2,000 have lost their jobs for allegedly taking part in the protests.

Bahrain is a close ally of the United States and houses the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. Its rulers blame Shiite-ruled Iran for stirring up trouble among its Shiite majority, but opposition leaders and Iranian officials deny the allegation and many Western powers have dismissed it.

The funeral for the boy killed in Wednesday's protests is scheduled for Thursday morning. Riot police surrounded the hospital where he was taken and took custody of his body amid rising tension with relatives and area residents, witnesses said. The body was transported to the country's main hospital morgue.

The boy's father, Jawad al-Sheikh, told CNN that when he went to the hospital, his son was "hard to recognize because he was covered with blood." He appealed for human rights groups to take steps against Bahrain's leaders, saying, "I lost my child. ... He does not deserve this destiny."

Tuesday, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the situation in Bahrain remains "tense and unpredictable," with small protests still being repressed. The United Nations has demanded that Bahrain release prisoners detained for exercising freedom of speech.