DUBAI - Bahrain opposition groups and clerics protested Monday against the detention of opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman by the authorities in the small but strategic Gulf state.

News of the arrest of the Al-Wefaq leader drew hundreds of his supporters onto the streets of villages outside the capital Manama late on Sunday, prompting clashes with security forces.

Police fired tear gas and birdshot to disperse the protesters, many of whom had gathered in Salman's home village of Bilad al-Qadeem, witnesses said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Salman's detention is "an escalating step that targets social stability and civil peace in Bahrain," said a statement of opposition groups led by Al-Wefaq.

"The Bahraini Authority is moving backward to a police-state instead of taking steps towards a political solution and an end to the serious human rights violations against citizens," said a statement.

On Monday, clerics gathered in Imam al-Sadeq mosque in Al-Guful village, brandishing photographs of the detained opposition leader, pictures posted on Al-Wefaq's Twitter account showed.

The party has demanded Salman's immediate release, calling his detention "a dangerous adventure that will complicate the political situation in Bahrain". Several rights groups also condemned the arrest of Salman, while the radical February 14 Coalition called for more protests Monday in Bilad al-Qadeem.