MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain on Sunday deployed thousands of security forces to confront anti-government protesters ahead of the one-year anniversary of the start of the Shiite-led uprising that seeks to loosen the ruling Sunni dynasty's monopoly on power.
Opposition groups urged marchers to stream toward an empty lot dubbed "Freedom Square" outside the capital Manama. Some activists seek to occupy the site before Tuesday's anniversary of the start of the wave of protests, and turn it into a new semi-permanent hub for the uprising.
Street battles between security forces and protesters have flared up almost every day for the past months across Bahrain, particularly in the predominantly Shiite villages around Manama. The capital itself has largely been off limits to demonstrators since authorities launched a punishing crackdown on dissent in March.
At least 40 people have been killed during months of unprecedented political unrest in Bahrain, the Gulf country hardest hit by unrest during last year's Arab Spring protests. Neighboring Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf states dispatched troops to Bahrain in March to help crush the protests.
Bahrain's ruling Sunni monarchy has warned it would not tolerate a spike in protests to mark the anniversary. Sporadic clashes occurred Sunday with police firing tear gas.
The island's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said last year's events were regrettable, although he downplayed the severity of the threat the protests had posed to the 200-year-old-rule of the Sunni dynasty.
The king says that a massive opposition movement does not really exist in the country.
"I regret the events of the past year," he told the German weekly Der Spiegel in an interview that was published Sunday. "But there is no opposition in Bahrain, not in the sense of a united bloc. Such a thing is not in our constitution. There are just people with different views, and that is good."
Shiites account for about 70 percent of Bahrain's population of some 525,000 people, but say they have faced decades of discrimination such as being blocked from top political and security posts.
Bahrain's Sunni rulers promised reforms, although they refused to make the far-reaching changes the protesters and the main Shiite group, Al Wefaq, have demanded. These include ending the monarchy's ability to select the government and set all-important state policies.