Story highlights

Protesters hold legal march in Manama

Sit-in follows at roundabout near mall

Government said sit-in was illegal and disrupted traffic

CNN  — 

Demonstrators calling for reforms in Bahrain on Friday staged a sit-in at a roundabout in a Manama commercial district, but security forces broke it up, a human rights activist and a protester said.

The protesters gathered on a busy street that is home to high-end stores and a popular mall.

There were three pro-democracy protests across the country, said Maryam Al-Khawaja, head of foreign affairs for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. She told CNN they occurred in Sitra, on Budaiya Road in Manama and in Daih, on the outskirts of the capital.

“They marched from Karranah Roundabout to Abu Saiba roundabout, they ended in front of Costa Coffee. But people stayed on and continued in a sort of sit-in.” said al-Khawaja. “Security forces came about an hour later, but when they did show up they used excessive force. They attacked not only to disperse, they went after the protesters and beat them, and caused damage to the coffee shop property and fired tear gas into the coffee shop.”

Protesters have been coming out since December 15 as part of an Occupy Budaiya movement that ended last week.

One of them, Mahdi Ali, talked about the incident at the coffee shop.

“A sit-in was attempted again today, on that roundabout, while many sat in Costa and watched, (they were) attacked,” Ali said.

The owner of the cafe could not be reached for comment.

“It is difficult to tell injured numbers because we have no medical access,” said al-Khawaja. “Any injured are pulled into homes for treatment.

The protest march was permitted, but the government said the sit-in rally was not.

The Bahrain Ministry of Interior released a statement, saying “security forces today intervened to disperse an illegal rally on Budaiya Avenue. Up to 40 women staged an unlawful sit-in at the … roundabout after a legal march called for by Al-Wefaq had ended. They refused orders to disperse.”

The statement said “rioters” attacked security forces.

The statement said the crowd grew to about 250 people, which disrupted traffic and compromised citizens, and said the disruption was handled in accordance with the law.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights says five people were arrested.

The independent Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry announced last month that police tortured and used excessive force against civilians arrested during a crackdown on protests this year.