Amnesty International has called on the Bahrain authorities to hold security forces accountable over the use of excessive force after police fired rubber bullets at close range at demonstrators in the capital Manama.
Hundreds of protesters are reported to have been injured over the weekend. On Friday, anti-government protesters sought to march to the royal palace in Riffa but were blocked by security forces and armed government supporters.
On Sunday, police used batons and fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who sought to block Manama's financial district and demonstrated at Bahrain University.
The disturbances were the first major violence since Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered the military off the streets nearly three weeks ago.
"This further resort to excessive force by Bahrain’s security forces is alarming and unacceptable," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The government must now rein in its forces. Those responsible for attacking peaceful protestors and using excessive force must be held to account.”
"The government must act now before the situation deteriorates further. There can be no repeat of the violence that we saw in February when seven protestors were killed by the security forces. There must be no impunity for unlawful killings."
The government has appointed the Deputy Prime Minister to lead an investigation into the February deaths which occurred when police used shotguns and tear gas against protesters inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt demanding political reform in Bahrain. However, few details of the inquiry have been made public.
Violence erupted last Friday when riot police blocked the road stopping tens of thousands of mainly Shi’a Muslim protesters from marching towards the royal palace. They then fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.
Pro-government demonstrators armed with swords, sticks and clubs then gathered to protect the mainly Sunni Muslim neighbourhood. Police reportedly tried to keep the two sets of demonstrators apart but clashes followed.
Doctors at the nearby A'ali Health Center, where large numbers of injured anti-government protesters were taken, said that most were treated for suffocation from tear gas or fractures caused by being beaten with clubs and sticks.
On Sunday, riot police attacked demonstrators attempting to block access to the nation's financial district, Bahrain Financial Harbor, leaving 100 injured.
Anti-government demonstrators also clashed with security forces and government supporters at Bahrain University.
Neighbouring Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia are reported to have sent troops into Bahrain to assist the government.
A new Amnesty International report, Bloodied but Unbowed: Unwarranted State Violence against Bahraini protesters, due to be released later this week, documents the use of live ammunition and extreme force against peaceful protesters by the security forces in February and assaults on medical staff trying to help the wounded. The report calls for the government to hold those responsible to account.