Middle East

Bahrain unrest: Tens of thousands rally in Pearl Square

Protesters in Manama, 25 Feb
Image caption The people rallied in honour of those killed last week

Tens of thousands of Bahrainis have gathered in the capital Manama to demand political reform in the 12th straight day of protests.

There was no sign of the police or army on the streets, and the government says it is ready for compromise.

The government had declared Friday a day of mourning for the seven people killed in clashes since 14 February.

The protesters all want democratic reforms. But some are also calling for the downfall of the king.

Bahrain - home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet - is the first Gulf country to be thrown into turmoil by the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world.

In addition to Washington, the unrest there is being closely watched by regional powers and neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Tent city

At Pearl Roundabout, there are now tents representing villages, professional groups and even a tent for the unemployed, the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones reports from Manama.

Some of those in the square say they will settle for nothing less than the downfall of the royal family. Others believe that some sort of compromise is possible, as long as it involves a genuinely democratic parliament, our correspondent says.

The government says it wants dialogue, but the question now is whether it is willing to offer enough to heal the deepening rifts in Bahraini society, he adds.

Earlier this week, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa ordered the release of several Shia prisoners under royal pardon, some of whom claimed they were tortured in prison.

But the protesters say the move is not enough.

Aside from the prisoner release, they want the government to resign, the deaths of protesters to be investigated, and political reforms that will lead to a constitutional monarchy.

The majority Shia population in Bahrain - who make up the vast majority of the protesters - have long said they are discriminated against when it comes to housing and government jobs.

But the protesters have been careful to describe their revolt as non-sectarian, chanting slogans such as: "There are no Sunnis or Shias, just Bahraini unity."

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