Police in Bahrain used tear gas Friday to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters marching on the capital, witnesses said.
The country's Sunni rulers also moved to mollify the mostly Shiite-led opposition movement by ordering prosecutors to investigate allegations of abuse by the security forces throughout Bahrain's 10-month-old uprising.
The investigation ordered by the interior minister, Lt. Gen. Sheik Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, was announced late Thursday by the country's Information Affairs Authority.
It covers "all cases related to deaths, torture and inhumane treatment implicating police."
The move follows the recommendations made last month by a special commission that probed claims of human rights abuses during the uprising, in which at least 35 people, including security force members, were killed.
The commission was authorized in a bid to ease tensions with the majority Shiites, a rare example of an Arab regime subjecting itself to a harsh public reckoning.
It issued a 500-page report documenting torture, the use of excessive force and fast-track trials, as authorities tried to stamp out the largest of this year's Arab Spring uprisings to hit the Gulf.
Opposition activists at the time said those responsible for the abuses needed to be brought to justice.
The Interior Ministry said Thursday it was following another of the report's recommendations by installing cameras to record interrogations, and that it signed an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross to develop better policing practices.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was encouraged by Bahrain's steps, including the government's decision this week to drop charges against more than 100 athletes accused of participating in protests.
Nuland told reporters the U.S. wanted its ally to "create and support a climate conducive to reconciliation."
The government's self-scrutiny has not defused the protest movement, however.
Witnesses said Friday's clashes began as demonstrators assembled in the village of Musalla outside the capital, Manama, for Shiite ceremonies to mark the holiday of Ashoura.
As the commemorations came to an end, some in the crowd began shouting anti-government slogans and started running in the direction of the capital's Pearl Square, witnesses said.
They were stopped by police as they neared the square. No injuries were reported, though some protesters appeared to have fainted and were being carried away by other demonstrators.
Pearl Square was the hub of widespread protests that began in February. After the protesters were driven out in March, the square was placed under heavy guard and a statue of a pearl at the center, which had become emblematic of the uprising, was demolished.
Opposition supporters have since made repeated efforts to reclaim the intersection.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report from Washington.