Bahrain orders military off streets of capital

Barbara Surk,Associated Press
Saturday 19 February 2011 13:10
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Bahrain today ordered its military off the square in the capital that was the heart of an uprising against the Gulf nation's rulers, a key demand by the opposition for starting a dialogue in the political crisis.

Some jubilant Bahrainis honked car horns, waved flags and flashed victory signs as the armored vehicles began moving away from Pearl Square.

However prominent opposition leader said the withdrawal of army tanks from Bahrain's capital is not enough to open talks with rulers in the crisis-wracked Gulf nation.

Ibrahim Sharif, head of the Waad Society, is demanding guarantees that protesters can stage rallies without fear of being attacked. Waad is an umbrella group of protest factions.

An Associated Press photographer saw a contingent of riot police fire tear gas at people celebrating the army withdrawal from the square and detain at least 10 people.

It was not immediately clear if the tanks and other armoured vehicles were headed back to military bases, or just pulling back from the square.

According to a government statement, the withdrawal order came from Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and the member of the royal family who has been designated to open a dialogue with protest leaders.

The statement said he had ordered "the withdrawal of all military from the streets of Bahrain with immediate effect."

"The Bahrain police force will continue to oversee law and order," the statement said.

Thousands of marchers came under fire Friday as they tried to head toward the square. More than 50 were injured in the second consecutive day of clashes. Protesters took over Pearl Square earlier in the week, but they were driven out in a deadly assault Thursday.

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