Bahrain protesters back in square as troops pull back

Posted By: Pti
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Manama, Feb 19 (AFP) Thousands of jubilant Bahrainisreturned today to Manama''s Pearl Square, the focal point ofbloody anti-regime demonstrations, after police and troopswithdrew in what appeared to be a conciliatory move.

After the security forces had pulled out, Crown PrinceSalman bin Hamad al-Khalifa ordered that they were to stayaway from demonstrators.

Salman, who is deputy commander of armed forces, ordered"all security forces to immediately withdraw from assemblyareas," a statement carried by BNA state agency said.

It added that he had also asked the "crowds to leave" tostart a "new phase of national action that would bringtogether all parties."

The latest developments come as pressure grows on thepro-western, strategically vital Gulf kingdom to negotiatewith the Shiite-led opposition, which has been demanding thecurrent government resign before talks offered by the king canbegin.

Protesters began erecting tents in the square afterremoving barbed wire and pouring in from three streets.

Police, who had earlier fired tear gas in an unsuccessfulattempt to prevent people from getting in from one of thestreets, eventually followed the army''s lead and withdrew aswell.

Some demonstrators were evacuated to Salmaniya hospitalafter inhaling gas, an AFP journalist there reported.

"I am happy we are back; I told you we would be back,"23-year-old Ibrahim told AFP in the square from whichprotesters were driven in a deadly police raid on Thursday andthe army moved in with threats of firm measures to enforcesecurity.

But three days later, the army returned to its bases ontoday afternoon.

"People want the regime to fall," chanted demonstratorsgathered at the roundabout, saying they wanted "peaceful"protests.

Earlier, the opposition had rejected the crown prince''soffer of dialogue saying it would join talks only after troopswithdrew and the cabinet quit.

The Islamic National Accord Association, which isboycotting parliament to protest the army''s iron-fistedresponse to the protests sweeping the country, said 95 peoplewere wounded yesterday, of whom three were "clinically dead."

"To consider dialogue, the government must resign and thearmy should withdraw from the streets," said INAAparliamentary leader Abdel Jalil Khalil Ibrahim.

"What we''re seeing now is not the language of dialoguebut the language of force." (AFP)

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