King Hamad said on Sunday that Bahrain still respects “liberties” and “tolerance,” as witnesses reported that police dispersed dozens of protesters in Shiite Muslim villages.
“Bahrain will remain a nation of law, institutions, liberties and tolerance between different religions and cultures,” he said in a speech marking National Day.
“Ensuring national consensus was and still is a purely Bahraini feature, without any foreign interference.”
The monarch also praised the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s “armed, security, and National Guard forces who are always ready” to ensure “security and stability.”
As he made his speech in Manama, police clashes broke out between police and youth protesters who took to the streets of several Shiite villages, witnesses said.
Acting head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Yousef al-Muhafedha told AP hundreds of protesters were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas in a neighborhood near the capital Manama. Elsewhere, masked youths blocked roads with burning tires.
No casualties were reported.
Most opposition religious leaders are suspected to have ties with Iran, which is accused of being behind the trouble in this small country.
On Friday, thousands demonstrated in Manama chanting slogans against the regime and calling for reform.
Protest groups are calling for large-scale marches later this week, according to Associated Press.
Bahrain was shaken by a protest movement in February 2011 led by Shiite protesters demanding a constitutional monarchy.
At least 80 people have died since the start of the unrest, according to the International Federation of Human Rights.
Bahrain, despite of wide criticism of crackdown on opposition, is considered provide more freedom women and the media than most Gulf states.
Bahrain’s crown prince this month renewed an appeal for dialogue to end the impasse, which was welcomed by the opposition, but there seems to be no end in sight to increasingly violent protests.