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Bahraini Police Clash with Protesters Blocking Manama Highway

An anti-government protester reacts to clouds of tear gas fired by police in Manama, Bahrain, March 13, 2011

Bahraini police have fired tear gas at anti-government protesters blocking a highway into the capital's financial district, in one of the Gulf state's most violent confrontations since a deadly government crackdown on the opposition last month.

Hundreds of protesters occupied the highway leading to Manama's Financial Harbor and set up barricades, blocking workers from reaching their offices Sunday.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at the demonstrators in what the government called an operation to re-open the King Faisal Highway. The government urged the protesters to remain at their encampment in Manama's Pearl Square, which police surrounded before pulling back. Journalists say protesters showed them rubber bullets apparently also fired by security forces.

The White House on Sunday condemned the Bahrani government for the violence, urging it to "use restraint and to respect the universal rights" of the protesters.

Thousands of mostly Shi'ite protesters have been occupying Pearl Square for weeks and staging rallies outside government buildings and royal palaces to demand a greater political voice for the island nation's Shi'ite majority.

Some of the demonstrators want Bahrain's minority Sunni rulers to give up their monopoly on power, while others want the ruling al Khalifa family to be ousted completely. Bahraini security forces killed seven protesters in street battles in the days after the demonstrations began in mid-February.

Bahrain's Sunni rulers have offered a dialogue with the opposition on political reforms. But many Shi'ites say they will continue protesting in the streets until the government accepts their demands.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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