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Clashes reported on eve of Bahrain elections

From Samira Said, CNN
updated 7:18 PM EDT, Fri September 23, 2011
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Thursday.
Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Thursday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Clashes reported in capital of Manama
  • Saturday's election will replace 18 seats in the parliament
  • The seats were vacated by opposition party Al-Wefaq
  • "The people of Bahrain have the right to choose the way in which we are governed," group says

(CNN) -- Clashes were reported Friday in Bahrain's capital on the eve of parliamentary elections in the country.

Security forces were sent to rallies to deal with what the Interior Ministry called "illegal acts which resulted from demonstrations," the state news agency reported.

The ministry said that saboteurs and outlaws stormed the City Center mall in Manama Friday afternoon, "intent on sowing chaos and terrorizing shoppers," according to the Bahrain News Agency. Those arrested will face legal action, officials said. The ministry blamed the rallies on "instigative calls posted on social networking sites."

Unspecified arrests and injuries were reported in the clashes. It was not clear late Friday how many involved pro- or anti-government protesters. There also were unconfirmed reports of tear gas used by security forces on demonstrators.

City Center was back to normal late Friday, according to the Interior Ministry.

A march on the Lulu Square area of Manama brought a halt to traffic in much of the capital.

A heavy police presence was evident as people prepared to vote Saturday. Residents of some villages have vowed to boycott.

The elections are being held to replace 18 seats that were vacated by Al-Wefaq, the country's largest opposition party. The party vacated the seats to protest the treatment of demonstrators during February's unrest in Bahrain.

An opposition group called The February 14 Coalition said it planned to launch protests on Friday and Saturday in the newly named Martyr's Square, the site formerly known as Pearl Roundabout.

"Just like all other freedom-loving people living in real democracies across the globe, we, the people of Bahrain have the right to choose the way in which we are governed," the group said.

The Youth Coalition of February 14 announced it would be holding a sit-in demonstration at the same location.

Addressing an opposition rally in Tubli, a village south of Manama, Thursday, Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the Al-Wefaq party said, "when we talk about democracy we want democracy like that of Westminster, France, and America, not the democracy of Saddam Hussein, nor the democracy of Zine El Abidine, nor the democracy of Gadhafi."

Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, president of Bahrain's Information Affairs Authority, said he expected voter turnout to be encouraging Saturday, according to the state-run Bahrain News Agency.

Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York. On Thursday he spoke about the need for reforms "aimed to provide decent living conditions, security and tranquility in a society of peaceful coexistence."

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