Bahrain unrest: Protesters reoccupy Pearl Square

Anti-government protesters rejoiced as they entered Pearl Square

Thousands of anti-government protesters in Bahrain have resumed an occupation of Pearl Square, the focal point of protests in the capital Manama.

Jubilant protesters returned after riot police fired tear gas and shotgun rounds before withdrawing. Reports say some 60 people may have been injured.

The army, which guarded the square after using deadly force to clear it on Thursday, was earlier ordered out.

It is reported that the opposition may formally present demands on Sunday.

An unnamed opposition source told Reuters that the opposition would tell Bahrain's crown prince that they wanted the release of political prisoners, the resignation of the government and talks on a new constitution.

The BBC understands that Crown Prince Salman has made contact with representatives of all of the country's political parties, including the main Shia opposition parties in the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.

Analysis

It's not clear what this is going to mean politically. Street politics have been much easier to understand than the behind the scenes manoeuvring. The streets have been left to the protesters - they see that as a victory.

Somehow the royal family has to find a way now to begin a dialogue with the opposition. But by handling the protests earlier this week with such brutality, they have really eroded the trust they need to begin meaningful political negotiations quickly.

So it is not now clear to what extent the government is in a position to call for talks. The other factor we have seen repeated across the Middle East is that when governments are seen to be making concessions from a position of weakness the opposition sense an opportunity and call for more.

The crown prince - who controls the armed forces - has already ordered the army off the streets and called for calm "for all parties to be able to present their opinions".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to him on Saturday, British officials said, welcoming the military pullout but stressing the UK's "deep concern" and "strong disapproval" about the use of live ammunition on protesters.

Standing firm

Following the army's withdrawal on Saturday, heavily armed riot police fired volleys of tear gas and shotgun rounds as anti-government protesters arrived at the square from all directions.

As the protesters stood firm, police then pulled out, leaving the square to the jubilant crowd. They waved flags and carried banners into the square in a show of defiance to the authorities.

The crowds now appear determined to stay in the square, setting up a makeshift hospital and erecting tents.

"We don't fear death any more, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of savages they are," one woman, teacher Umm Mohammed, told the Reuters news agency.

The protesters have made the square, a large traffic roundabout, a focal point of demonstrations in recent days.

Mid-East unrest: Bahrain

Map of Bahrain
  • King Hamad, 61, has been in power since 1999
  • Population 800,000; land area 717 sq km, or 100 times smaller than Irish Republic
  • A population with a median age of 30.4 years, and a literacy rate of 91%
  • Youth unemployment at 19.6%
  • Gross national income per head: $25,420 (World Bank 2009)

They have been increasingly angry at the violent suppression of their protests by the security forces.

At least 50 people were wounded on Friday as the army fired on protesters following the funerals for four killed when troops cleared Pearl Square early on Thursday.

Two people were also killed earlier in the week.

Bahrain is one of several Arab countries to have experienced pro-democracy demonstrations since the fall of long-time Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak was forced from power on 11 February.

The majority Shia population in Bahrain have long said they are discriminated against when it comes to housing and government jobs. They have also been calling for greater political rights from the Sunni royal family.

Correspondents say leaving the square to the protesters may be a response to US President Barack Obama's call for restraint.

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