Protesters flood Bahrain capital square as military leaves

Thousands of anti-gov't demonstrators celebrate as tanks, armored vehicles leave main square in capital Manama.

February 19, 2011 13:11
2 minute read.
Joyful protesters return to Pearl Square, Manama

joy Protesters Pearl Square 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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MANAMA, Bahrain —Thousands of celebrating protesters have moved back into a square that was the symbolic heart of their demonstration after Bahrain's leaders ordered the military to withdraw tanks and other armored vehicles that had secured it earlier this week.

Military vehicles moved away Saturday from Pearl Square, the symbolic center of the uprising against the Sunni monarchy in the predominantly Shiite nation, and riot police also withdrew.

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The cheering protesters carrying Bahraini flags, flowers and signs that said "Peaceful, peaceful" marched to the square. They chanted, "We are victorious."

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, made a brief address on state TV and appealed for calm and political dialogue.

Saturday's decision to remove troops came after the military had opened fire on protesters trying to reach the site that was once the centerpiece of their uprising against the Gulf nation's rulers.

Friday, dozens more were injured when the military opened fire on the thousands who defied the authorities by trying to march back into the landmark square.

Bahrain's Shi'ite opposition on Saturday rejected any dialogue with the Gulf kingdom's Sunni royal family until "tanks are off the streets" and the army stops "shooting at peaceful protesters."

For days, protesters in Bahrain — a Western-allied Arab monarchy in the Persian Gulf home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet — have been calling for the toppling of the Sunni ruling elite.

Bahrain's king appointed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa to lead a dialogue "with all parties." A senior member of Al Wefaq opposition block, Khalil al-Marzook, told The Associated Press the "atmosphere for dialogue is not right."

US President Barack Obama condemned the use of violence against the protesters in Bahrain, as well as in Libya and Yemen, where heavy crackdowns by old-guard regimes were reported.

Protesters on Friday described a chaotic scene of tear gas clouds, bullets coming from many directions and people slipping in pools of blood as they sought cover. Some claimed the gunfire came from either helicopters or sniper nests.

An Associated Press cameraman saw army units shooting anti-aircraft weapons, fitted on top of armored personnel carriers, above the protesters, in apparent warning shots and attempts to drive them back from security cordons about 200 yards (200 meters) from the square.

Then the soldiers turned firearms on the crowd, one marcher said.

The protesters have called for the monarchy to give up control over top government posts and all critical decisions and address deep grievances by Shi'ites, who claim they face systematic discrimination and poverty and are blocked from key roles in public service and the military.

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