Bahrain urged to reform as protesters hold Pearl Square

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Manama, Feb 20 (AFP) Bahraini protesters camped out inManama''s Pearl Square today as police held back amid growingpressure on the Sunni Muslim ruling family to open meaningfultalks with the Shiite-led opposition.

"The night passed off without any problems," said Tahar,a student who had stayed up all night with dozens of otheryoungsters to guard the central square, which has been thefocal point of the demonstrations that have rocked the smallbut strategic Gulf kingdom since February 14.

"We are frightened that the security forces will launchanother surprise attack like they did on Thursday," he said,referring to a nocturnal police raid to clear the square whichleft four people dead.

Protesters flocked back to the square on Saturday afterthe army, which had deployed on the streets of the capitalfollowing Thursday''s raid, was ordered to return to base.

Riot police fired tear gas in an unsuccessful attempt todisperse the demonstrators but then withdrew as Crown PrinceSalman, the deputy commander of armed forces, ordered policeand troops alike to hold back.

The unrest has cast doubt on next month''s season-openingBahrain Grand Prix, with Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestonerevealing Sunday that it could be moved to a later date in thecalendar.

The heir to the throne has been tasked by his father KingHamad with launching a sweeping dialogue with the opposition.

But emboldened by a wave of uprisings in the Arab worldthat has swept the strongmen of both Tunisia and Egypt frompower, the opposition has raised its stakes, demanding a "realconstitutional monarchy" and the resignation of thegovernment.

Prime Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, an uncle of the king,has held office ever since independence from Britain in 1971and is widely despised by the opposition.

"The government that was unable to protect its peoplemust quit and those responsible for the massacres must bejudged," said Abdel Jalil Khalil Ibrahim, head of theparliamentary bloc of the main Shiite opposition group, theIslamic National Accord Association. (AFP)

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