Small-scale clashes erupted in two Bahraini villages as security forces tightened
their grip on Shi'ite communities for Monday's "Day of Rage" protests inspired by upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia that led to the ouster of both countries' leaders.
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Helicopters circled over the capital Manama, where protesters were expected to gather in the afternoon, and police cars stepped up their presence in Shi'ite villages, breaking up one protest with teargas and rubber bullets.
At least 14 people were injured in clashes overnight and on Monday.
Bahrain, where a Sunni family rules over a Shi'ite majority, has offered cash payouts in the run-up to the protest to prevent Shi'ite discontent from bubbling over as popular revolts spread in the Arab world.
"We call on all Bahraini people -- men, women, boys and girls -- to share in our rallies in a peaceful and civilized way to guarantee a stable and promising future for ourselves and our
children," Bahraini activists said in a statement issued on Twitter.
"We would like to stress that Feb. 14 is only the beginning. The road may be long and the rallies may continue for days and weeks, but if a people one day chooses life, then destiny will respond."
Diplomats say Bahrain's demonstrations, organized on the social media websites Facebook and Twitter, will be a gauge of whether a larger base of Shi'ites can be drawn on to the streets. The big test will be if demonstrations take hold in Manama, where demonstrations are rare.
Big protests in the Gulf Arab island state could embolden other marginalized Shi'ites in nearby Saudi Arabia, political analysts say.
There was no immediate comment from Bahraini authorities.
Police clashed late on Sunday with residents in the Bahraini village of Karzakan, where security forces regularly skirmish with Shi'ite youths, and one protester was injured, witnesses said. Police said three officers were hurt.
In the village of Nuweidrat, police used teargas and rubber bullets on Monday to disperse a crowd demanding the release of Shi'ite detainees, witnesses said, adding that 10 people were slightly injured.
"There were 2,000 sitting in the street voicing their demands when police started firing," 24-year-old Kamel told Reuters, declining to give his full name. Nearby, streets were
littered with teargas canisters and rubber bullets.
The scene was different in Manama, where government supporters honked car horns and waved Bahraini flags to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a national charter introduced
after unrest in the 1990s. Many Shi'ites believe they still do not have enough say in the country's affairs.
Bahrain is a small oil-producing country whose Shi'ite population has long complained of discrimination by the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family, well before popular uprisings in
Tunisia and Egypt emboldened activists throughout the region.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, trying to defuse the tension, said he would give 1,000 dinars (2,650 U.S. dollars) to each local family, and the government has indicated that it may free minors arrested under a security crackdown last year.
Non-OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) Bahrain, which unlike its Gulf Arab peers has little spare cash to use for social problems, said last week it would spend an extra 417 million dollars on social items, including food subsidies, reversing its attempts to prepare the public for cuts in subsidies.
Other Arab countries have jumped on the demonstrations bandwagon, with protests in Yemen intensifying in the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Hundreds of anti-government demonstrators clashed with supporters of Yemen's president on Monday south of the capital, with both sides hurling rocks as protests escalated in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state.