The clashes began after a standoff between the mostly Shiite Muslim demonstrators and riot police and Sunni mobs carrying swords, clubs and stones.

Witnesses say security forces backed by pro—government vigilantes are battling protesters near the offices and compounds of Bahrain’s ruling family.

The clashes began after a standoff between the mostly Shiite Muslim demonstrators and riot police and Sunni mobs carrying swords, clubs and stones.

A witness, Habib Ibreeq, says there are some injuries among the protesters, who had gathered near Bahrain’s royal complex. Ambulances are heading to the scene.

The street battles on Friday will almost certainly escalate tensions between Bahrain’s Sunnis and majority Shiites, who have increasingly called for toppling the Western—allied monarchy in the small but strategic island nation that hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

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