Bahrain drives protesters out of financial centre

Police also fired gas at protesters in Pearl Square for the first time since an anti-regime sit-in began there last month, witnesses said.

Around 350 activists blocked the entrance to Financial Harbour with a human chain and started to set up tents in the business district.

The interior ministry said 14 policemen were injured in clashes as they drove the protesters out and dismantled the camp.

Bahrain has become a regional hub of Islamic finance as it seeks to diversify its economy away from a dependence on diminishing oil revenues.

Police also fired tear gas from a bridge overlooking Pearl Square but pulled back shortly afterwards, witnesses said.

The ministry urged protesters to "remain in the (Pearl) roundabout for their safety," insisting the operation was aimed at reopening King Faisal Highway next to the financial centre.

Security forces had avoided the area since clashes on February 19 which killed seven protesters.

Hardline anti-regime activists have been intensifying their protests outside Pearl Square, staging demonstrations at the government headquarters and royal palaces.

On Friday, police fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who marched towards a royal palace to prevent clashes with armed loyalists.

Protests in Shiite-majority Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni dynasty, broke out after popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia toppled those countries' long-time autocratic rulers.

The main opposition groups have stopped short of demanding the toppling of the king, insisting on major reforms, but hardliners have been vocal in calling for the end of monarchy.

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