MANAMA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - A massive police force blocked protesters trying to march to the Bahraini capital on Friday, witnesses said, a day before a key by-election to fill parliamentary seats vacated by opposition leaders in protest at the crushing of popular unrest in March.
Bahrain's Shi'ite Muslim majority took to the streets of Manama in February seeking more access to jobs and a greater say in government but a brutal crackdown and martial law ended the protest wave. Conciliatory efforts by the Sunni Muslim-led government followed but have not yielded any agreements.
More radical elements of the opposition have tried several times to march back into the capital recently, and Friday's attempt appeared to be the largest yet, witnesses said.
But police barred their way and sealed off roads to the Sanabis area and Bahrain Financial Harbour, which flank the central roundabout that was the epicentre of protests seven months ago.Protests have also flared nightly in smaller villages where many Bahraini Shi'ites live.
Elections for 18 of the 40 seats in parliament are to be held today to replace opposition deputies who quit in anger over the violent crackdown. The opposition is boycotting the vote, saying that the government has not done enough to address their grievances.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent in 1,500 troops in March to help suppress the unrest in Bahrain, a strategically important island off the coast of the oil-producing Saudi Eastern Province and home to the biggest U.S. military presence in the region, the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet.