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Bahrain protesters celebrate as police, soldiers withdraw from Pearl Square

Confrontations give way to a massive party as protesters gather in square where hours earlier a bloody crackdown was staged by security forces. Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa tells CNN that he had ordered the removal of the military from the square and that protesters would be allowed to gather and voice their concerns without fear.

February 19, 2011|By Ned Parker | Los Angeles Times
  • Protesters raise their arms triumphantly in Pearl Square.
Protesters raise their arms triumphantly in Pearl Square. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles…)

Manama, Bahrain — Protesters celebrated Saturday in Bahrain when police and soldiers withdrew from Manama's symbolic Pearl Square, allowing young Shiite Muslims eager for a larger role in Bahraini society to take back their central stage.

"The police backed down when they saw thousands of people coming from four directions," said one demonstrator.

Confrontations gave way to a massive party as protesters chanted, hugged and waved yellow and red plastic flowers. Hundreds of Bahraini flags fluttered in the wind.

Soldiers had fired tear gas and bullets at demonstrators a day earlier and brutally cleared Pearl Square before dawn on Thursday, rousting sleeping protesters camped in the traffic roundabout.

Crown Prince Salman ibn Hamed Khalifa, told by by Bahrain's king to open a dialogue with all opposition forces, said in an interview with CNN that he had ordered the removal of the military from the square. He said the protesters would be allowed to gather and voice their concerns without fear.

The crown prince indicated he was deeply sorry for the deaths of protesters, CNN reported.

At least four people died in the confrontations in and around Pearl Square, and dozens were injured, according to hospital sources. At least two people were wounded earlier Saturday when violence erupted for a third straight day at the square. An angry crowd of men and women sang, "Down, down Hamed!" referring to the king, and "Bring down the government!"

An angry woman impatient to march on Pearl Square shouted: "Every day! We need to be on the street!" Protesters wore bandannas over their faces to protect against tear gas.

But when the police left, the mood turned happy.

A protester who gave his name only as Riyad said: "We will stay. It will not end until the government listens to the people. We will not give up until the government collapses."

ned.parker@latimes.com

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