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Demonstrators, police take to streets in Bahrain

By Holly Yan and Jethro Mullen, CNN
August 15, 2013 -- Updated 0227 GMT (1027 HKT)
A Bahraini boy flashes the v-sign during the funeral of 10-year-old Ali Jaffer Habib, in the village of Malikiya, on August 10, 2013.
A Bahraini boy flashes the v-sign during the funeral of 10-year-old Ali Jaffer Habib, in the village of Malikiya, on August 10, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Opposition group says there were 60 protests in different areas
  • Government says militant activism has increased recently, vows to maintain stability
  • Lawmakers last month banned any demonstrations in the capital
  • Human rights groups have criticized the conduct of Bahraini authorities

(CNN) -- Protesters -- and police -- took to the streets in Bahrain Wednesday as two years of simmering unrest boiled over into demonstrations demanding reform.

Police fired tear gas to break up demonstrations. One opposition group said there were 60 protests in different areas.

The anti-government opposition bloc called for mass demonstrations in the tiny island kingdom Wednesday, trying to reignite an uprising in which the majority Shiite population protested against the ruling Sunni minority.

The government, meanwhile, said there has been an increase in militant activism in the country including injuries to security forces and civilians, and that authorities would act to maintain stability.

A government statement Wednesday elaborated, saying "In recent months, a series of militant tactics have been used across the country, including explosives, shotguns and rocket launchers amongst many others, all constructed in homes."

Wednesday marked the 42nd anniversary of British forces pulling out of the Gulf kingdom. The opposition is using the slogan "Bahrain Tamarod" echoing the name of Tamarod, the protest movement that overthrew former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy.

Ahead of Wednesday's protests, legislators last month banned any demonstrations in the capital, Manama. They also approved tough new penalties for those who commit or incite "terrorism," including stripping Bahrainis of citizenship.

The government statement Wednesday categorized those actions as "not based on people disagreeing with the government -- the purpose is to protect lives and livelihood of the majority of citizens."

And the statement said, "Bahrain has continued to allow citizens to exercise their right to express their grievances on various platforms, including in over 200 authorized rallies in the past year and half alone."

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2011 crackdown

Spurred by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Bahraini citizens demonstrated in early 2011, demanding democratic reforms and other changes in the way the country was run.

But the movement failed to gain the traction of other Arab Spring uprisings after a crackdown by authorities. Bahraini security forces were backed by troops from nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Demonstrators say authorities killed dozens of citizens and arrested, tortured and sentenced hundreds of others.

Protests continue

Opposition leaders have tried to keep the protest movement alive.

"The thing about Bahrain is that nobody really knows what's going on there because there's not much media coverage but the protests never stopped," Maryam Alkhawaja, head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom.

"Every single day between 15 to 25 different areas come out to protest in Bahrain. Every single day," said Alkhawaja.

But authorities have responded by continuing the crackdown.

Global human rights activists have denounced what they call appalling human rights abuses by Bahraini authorities.

In April, Human Rights Watch said security forces had raided homes and arbitrarily detained a number of prominent anti-government protest leaders.

Bahrain is an ally of the United States and home to the 5th Fleet, a large U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf.

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