Security forces in Bahrain clashed on Thursday with anti-government protesters in street battles that left at least one boy dead amid high tensions on the second anniversary of the uprising in the Gulf nation, activists said.
The demonstrators also included groups chanting against talks aimed at easing the Arab Spring-inspired unrest in the country, showing the deep divisions even among opposition factions over whether to negotiate or escalate the unrest.
Bahrain’s Shiite majority is seeking a greater political voice in the strategic Sunni-ruled kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
More than 55 people have been killed in the two-year unrest, which began with massive marches on Feb. 14, 2011. Some activists place the death toll higher.
The latest death was a 16-year-old boy killed by police bird shot fire early Thursday in the mainly Shiite village of Dih, west of the capital, Manama, said Yousef al-Muhafedha, a rights activist. The main Shiite opposition group Al-Wefaq also announced the death.
Street battles broke out before dawn in some Shiite neighborhoods, but opposition groups also have called for a nationwide strike to mark the anniversary.
Al -Wefaq and other main Shiite factions opened talks with government officials and Sunni envoys last week, but some hard-line Shiite groups oppose dialogue amid fears it will not weaken the monarchy’s hold on power.
Opposition groups have demanded that the ruling dynasty relinquish much of its sweeping authority over the country’s affairs, including picking all key government and military posts.
Sunni leaders have made some concessions, including handing more oversight power to the elected parliament. But many Shiite protesters say that falls short of their goals for a deep reform in how Bahrain is governed.
The U.S. has supported dialogue and has stood by Bahrain’s leaders so as not to jeopardize critical military ties and its relations with other Gulf Arab nations, including neighboring Saudi Arabia. But Washington has increasingly criticized tough measures by Bahraini authorities, including stripping 31 Shiites of citizenship and keeping other opposition leaders behind bars.