The United States says it will partly resume military sales to Bahrain despite the crackdown on popular protests by the Gulf emirate's rulers since early last year. Bahrain hosts a major US naval headquarters.
The Obama administration said the deliveries to Bahrain's defense forces and coast guard excluded equipment "used for crowd control." Since the uprising began in February 2011, Amnesty International has listed 60 deaths and numerous arrests.
On Thursday night, Bahraini riot police fired tear gas during protests by Shiite villagers near Manama who were calling for releases of detained activists.
They held aloft pictures of the prominent activist Nabeel Rajab, who was arrested last weekend for sending messages deemed insulting by the government.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged Bahrain's ruling Sunni minority led by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa to tackle what she termed "serious unresolved human rights issues."
She said the equipment released was "for the purpose of helping Bahrain maintain its external defense capabilities," but said the US would withhold deliveries of wire-guided missiles as well as Humvee vehicles.
"Certain additional items for the Bahrain Defense Force, as well as all items for the Ministry of the Interior, excepting the Coast Guard and units deployed in Afghanistan, will also remain on hold," Nuland said.
On Wednesday, Al Khalifa had visited US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said "much work remains to fully address ongoing human rights issues."
Sales delayed since October
The original sale delay in October 2011 had been worth $53 million (39 million euros) and included some 44 Humvees as well as several hundred wire-guided TOW missiles. Prime contractors were to have been AM General and Raytheon Co.
Bahrain's human right issues strife was highlighted by protestors last month during the world motor racing's Grand Prix which took place under heavy guard. It had been canceled in 2011.
Human rights advocates have criticized Washington for its muted response to the crackdowns in Bahrain compared to vocal US support for recent popular protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.
On the other flank, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council had pressured the Obama administration to back Bahrain's ruling Al Khalifa monarchy. It has rejected calls for an elected government and parliament with full legislative powers, accusing Bahrain's opposition of being influenced by Iran.
Bahrain, a strategic island nation located in the Gulf opposite Iran, has served as headquarters of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet for more than 60 years.
ipj/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)