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Bahrain's king to free political prisoners as protests continue
Feb 22, 2011, 17:20 GMT
Cairo - Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Tuesday ordered the release of some political prisoners, as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters returned to Lulu square in the centre of the capital Manama.
Protesters marched for two kilometres before settling in the square, which has become the rallying point for demonstrators in Manama since February 14.
Bahraini protesters, who have been inspired by successful anti- regime uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, initially called for democratic reform, but are now calling for regime change.
The political prisoners released included Shiite activists accused of plotting against the state, as the monarchy tries to engage protesters and opposition in a national dialogue to end the uprising.
'The national dialogue is aimed at bringing to everyone in Bahrain the opportunity to contribute to Bahrain's future path of reform,' government spokeswoman Maysun Sabkar said.
Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, who is also the deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, on Saturday ordered the military to withdraw from the streets and appealed for calm and political dialogue with the opposition.
Seven opposition groups, including the country's main opposition bloc Al Wifaq, or the Islamic National Accord Association, had urged the government to establish a national dialogue after violent clashes between protesters and security earlier in the week.
Sabkar said seven people had been killed since the protests began. The victims were all adult males aged 21 and over.
Twenty-five injured people were still in hospital, two in a critical condition, according to the Ministry of Health.
Sabkar added that Sheikh Salman has conducted a series of meetings with opposition figures, community leaders and business figures from all sections of society. However, there was no timeframe for the discussions leading to the dialogue.
'The Crown Prince's priority is to ensure the participation of all political groups so that everyone can get round the table and begin the national dialogue in earnest,' she said.
More than 80 per cent of the million-strong population is Muslim - two-thirds are Shiites, while the ruling family are Sunnis. Many Shiites feel discriminated against.
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