Masses march in Bahrain as Mullen wraps up visit

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Manama, Feb 25 (AFP) Bahraini protesters throngedManama today to demand the end of the ruling Sunni regime, asvisiting US military officer Mike Mullen reaffirmedWashington''s commitment to embattled King Hamad.

Tens of thousands of Shiite protesters headed forPearl Square, epicentre of daily demonstrations since February14, chanting: "The people want to topple the regime!"Young and old, men and women, the demonstratorsmarched in gender-segregated processions on either side of amain highway, waving the red-and-white flag of Bahrain ordraping it across their shoulders.

Some of the protesters carried megaphones, blaringslogans and speeches as the protest snaked towards the square,renamed "Martyrs'' Roundabout" in honour of the seven victimsof a deadly police raid on a protest last week.

Mullen, meanwhile, wrapped up his visit to Bahrain, akey US ally and home to Washington''s Fifth Fleet, beforeheading to Kuwait.

The US admiral reaffirmed his country''s support forthe monarch''s "handling (of) the popular crisis" and "strongcommitment" to Bahrain''s army before leaving Manama, an AFPcorrespondent said.

The White House said today that a senior US officialcalled Bahrain''s crown prince to urge "continued restraint" bysecurity forces while backing the Gulf kingdom''s nationaldialogue initiative.

It said National Security Advisor Tom Donilontelephoned Crown Prince Salman to express "strong support" forthe open dialogue on political reform which Bahrain''s rulingmonarchy pledged to undertake.

Bahrain''s military meanwhile was the centre of angrychants among the crowds in Manama on Friday, who shouted: "Howbizarre, how bizarre, the army''s killing the people."Leading Shiite clerics had called on thedemonstrations to mourn the victims killed by security forces,urging protesters to march en masse today to Pearl Square.

Signs hanging around the square on Friday signalledthat the protests were far from over: "We will not accept anydialogue with he who kills us in cold blood," declared onebanner hanging from an overpass.

"A free state and a happy people," read another, whilea third demanded the government "free all politicaldetainees."Official opposition groups have stopped short ofdemanding outright regime change, instead calling for majorreforms including the election of the prime minister and thecreation of a "real" constitutional monarchy. (AFP)

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