Protesters stage mass rally against Bahrain govt

Manama, Feb 22 (AFP) Tens of thousands of supportersof Bahrain''s Shiite-led opposition today poured into thestreets of Manama calling for the government''s downfall in thelargest rally in more than a week of protests.

Streets of the capital were clogged with protestersmarching towards Pearl Square, the focal point of anti-regimeprotests, an AFP correspondent said.

Those leading the protest carried a large bannerreading, "The march of loyalty to martyrs", while a posterstrung from a bridge read in English, "No dialogue before thedownfall of the ruling regime."The banner carried by the crowd bore the photographsof seven "martyrs" killed by security forces, the last of whomsuccumbed to his wounds yesterday and was buried earliertoday.

"The people want the fall of the regime," protesterschanted in unison, as they waved red-and-white Bahraini flags.

Women in black veils chanted slogans against Bahrainmonarch Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa.

"May your hands be paralysed, Hamad," they shouted.

"Down down Khalifa," the crowds chanted, condemningPrime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, the uncle of kingHamad who has been in office since 1971 and who is widelydespised by the Shiites.

The rally marked the first to be officially called forby political associations since protests started on February14 in response to calls by cyber activists inspired byuprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Today''s protest comes after pro-government Sunnisrallied in their thousands at a Manama mosque Monday eveningpledging loyalty to the al-Khalifa family, and calling onprotesters to answer an invitation by Crown Prince Salman binHamad to engage in wide-reaching dialogue.

The rally also comes a day after King Hamad bin Isaaal-Khalifa answered a crucial opposition demand by orderingthe release of political prisoners and halting trialprocedures against others.

Shiite opposition MP Abduljalil Khalil told AFP theprisoner release was an opposition demand so Crown PrinceSalman could "prove his seriousness in calling for dialogue."The Islamic National Accord Association (INAA) whichis the main Shiite formation and controls 18 seats in the40-member parliament, had demanded along with other oppositiongroups, the release of prisoners before considering the crownprince''s call for dialogue.

INAA quit the parliament last week in protest atsecurity forces opening fire on demonstrations, during whichseven people were killed and scores injured.

The protester buried today, 20-year-old RedhaMohammed, died of his wounds on Monday after being shot bypolice three days earlier. (AFP)

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