MANAMA, Mar 11 (Reuters) Bahraini police arrested 24 people after using tear gas to disperse a protest in the Gulf Arab state, a human rights activist said today.
The protesters were demanding the release of 10 youths arrested after a sit-in at the country's airport in December over the brief detention of a Shi'ite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Sanad, as he returned from Iran.
A police official said protesters had stormed a shopping mall and vandalised property.
''The security personnel had to enter the mall to bring out the rioters and bring the situation back to normal. They arrested some of the rioters,'' the official told the Bahrain News Agency.
Human rights activist Nabil Rajab told Reuters officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters after some of them chanted slogans against Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.
The demonstration late yesterday came as Bahrain is hosting an international Formula One car race, part of efforts to boost tourism in the small pro-Western island kingdom.
The least wealthy of the Gulf oil producers, Bahrain has a history of political tension over unemployment and alleged human right abuses.
Bahrain, headquarters of the U S Navy's Fifth Fleet, witnessed political unrest in the 1980s and the 1990s by its Shi'ite majority who were demanding more rights from the Sunni-led government.
Since coming to power in 1999, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has introduced some political reforms, including pardoning political prisoners and exiled activists.
REUTERS KD HT2215