21 Feb 2011

Protesters reclaim square in Bahrain capital

1:52 pm on 21 February 2011

Protesters in Bahrain have streamed back into the capital Manama to continue demonstrations against the government.

They were initially confronted by riot police who opened fire with tear gas and shotguns, but police then pulled back and left Pearl Square on Saturday.

The protesters have returned with flowers and white flags proclaiming peace. There have been cheers of jubilation, along with chants that the ruling families of the small kingdom should go, the BBC reports.

The crowds appear determined to stay in the square, setting up a makeshift hospital and erecting tents and 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 the square on Thursday. Two people were also killed earlier in the week.

Bahrain's government says it has begun to talk to opposition groups demanding reform.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa has been meeting with political parties, including the main Shia opposition parties, and appeared on national television appealing for calm and promising protesters their concerns will be addressed.

The majority Shias say they are discriminated against in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

The BBC reports the change of tack may be because United States President Barack Obama has urged King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to show restraint with the protests.

Bahrain hosts a big American military base and borders Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter.

Prince al-Khalifa says the security of the king is his main priority and has called for national mourning for the dead.