Bahrain: Protesters hold anti-government rally


Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters formed the largest opposition rally in recent months when they flooded a major highway in Bahrain on March 9, 2012, according to the Associated Press.

Bahraini security forces fired tear gas at some of the smaller groups which were attempting to reach Pearl Square, the symbolic hub of last year's Shiite-led uprising.

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Demonstrators called for democratic reforms, and Reuters reported that a live blog showed banners denouncing "dictatorship" and calling for the release of detainees.

Before the march, Shiite cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim said, "We are here for the sake of our just demands that we cannot make concessions over and we stick with them because we have sacrificed for them," according to Reuters. A Reuters photographer at the scene estimated that there could have been over 100,000 people at the rally.

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, spoke to Al Jazeera from Manama, saying, "The message is that people are not happy with the government. We have clear demands: an elected government, a parliament with power, an end to sectarian discrimination, a clear redistribution of wealth and power and all demands guaranteed by the international convention on human rights."

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CNN said the protests were largely peaceful, though there were minor skirmishes that ended in small injuries.

The Bahrain government's response was to point to the protests as an example of Bahrain's freedom of expression. Nabeel bin Yacoub Al-Hamer, an adviser to the Bahraini king on media, told CNN, "The situation is towards dialogue to all components of the Bahraini community and everyone has the desire to end this crisis experienced by Bahrain."

The AFP reported that protests also took place in Baghdad and other cities in southern Iraq, drawing thousands of Shiites who support cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadrist official Ibrahim al-Jabari told the gathered demonstrators, "The Bahraini king is a king only to himself, not for the oppressed people of Bahrain."

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