DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Riot police in Bahrain used water cannons and tear gas on Friday to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters trying to reach a heavily guarded site that was once the hub of their uprising.

The demonstrators marched toward Pearl Square in Bahrain's capital, Manama, after a funeral procession for a protester who died in custody. The government said the man died of a blood disease.

An Associated Press photographer said the demonstrators hurled firebombs and rocks at troops about 700 meters (yards) from Pearl Square, where crowds gathered in February 2011 as the Arab Spring-inspired uprising erupted in the Gulf nation.

Bahrain's majority Shiites seek greater rights in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. At least 50 people have died in nearly 20 months of unrest.

Dozens of opposition leaders have been jailed, including human rights activist Nabeel Rajab whose family said he began a hunger strike Friday.

Rajab was temporarily freed from prison this week to attend his mother's funeral, but the furlough was cut short after he delivered a speech urging for protests to continue.

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  • A Bahraini anti-government protester lights a petrol bomb during clashes with riot police firing tear gas and stun grenades in Sadad, Bahrain, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

  • Riot police chase Bahraini anti-government protesters during clashes in Sadad, Bahrain, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

  • Bahraini anti-government protesters carrying stones and masked against tear gas face off against riot police, unseen, during clashes in Sadad, Bahrain, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

  • A Bahraini anti-government protester throws a petrol bomb toward riot police, unseen, firing tear gas and stun grenades in Sadad, Bahrain, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

  • Human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, released from jail this week after serving a two-month sentence for tearing a picture of the king, shows up for the funeral in Manama, Bahrain, on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, of Rabab Mohamed Hasan, the elderly mother of prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

  • Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, fourth left, prays over the casket of his elderly mother in Manama, Bahrain, on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)

  • A Bahraini man holds up a sign calling for the release of human rights activist Nabeel Rajab during the funeral procession for Rajab's elderly mother in Manama, Bahrain, on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)