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King says Bahrain respects liberties

Dubai - 

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 fired tear gas and sound bombs to disperse dozens of youth protesters who took to the streets of several Shiite villages, witnesses said.

"Down Hamad" and "Resign Khalifa," the shouted in reference to Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa -- the king's uncle who has retained his post for decades.

No casualties were reported.

On Friday, thousands demonstrated in Manama chanting slogans against the regime and calling for reform.

Bahrain was shaken by a protest movement in February 2011 led by the Shiite majority demanding a constitutional monarchy.

At least 80 people have died since the start of the unrest, according to the International Federation of Human Rights.

Many opposition activists have been arrested and are on trial for their roles during the protests.

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.

muscatdaily columnists