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Clashes in Bahrain before planned protest rally

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain’s security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets Monday at thousands of anti-government protesters heeding calls to unite in a major rally and bring the Arab reform wave to the Gulf for the first time.

The punishing tactics by authorities appeared to foil plans for a mass gathering in Bahrain’s capital Manama, but it underscored the sharply rising tensions in the tiny island kingdom — a strategic Western ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

At least 25 people were treated for injuries, and one man died after being found on the street with severe head trauma, according to family members.

Riot police — some firing bird shot pellets — moved against marchers trying to reach central Manama in an act that organizers intended as an homage to Egypt’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular revolt that drove Hosni Mubarak from power.

Bahrain’s protesters, however, claim they do not seek to overthrow the ruling monarchy but want greater political freedoms and sweeping changes in how the country is run.

Social media sites have been flooded with calls by an array of political youth groups, rights activists and others to join demonstrations on Monday, a symbolic day in Bahrain as the anniversary of the country’s 2002 constitution that brought pro-democracy reforms such as an elected parliament.

But opposition groups seek deeper changes from the country’s ruling dynasty, including transferring more decision-making powers to the parliament and breaking the monarchy’s grip on senior government posts. Bahrain’s majority Shiites — about 70 percent of the population — have long complained of systemic discrimination by the Sunni rulers.

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