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Anti-Government Protesters Storm Bahrain's Central Square

Demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, 19 February 2011

Demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, 19 February 2011

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators have marched into Manama's Pearl Roundabout, just two days after authorities used deadly force to seize and cordon off the area.

Witnesses say police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, but eventually left the scene.
A small number of people were rushed to the hospital.

Tanks and soldiers had been stationed at the roundabout since Thursday, when authorities used deadly force to disperse people camping there.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Khalifa, justified the crackdown saying it was necessary because the demonstrators were threatening the country's stability.

Protesters attempted to march back to the scene on Friday, but again had rubber bullets, tear gas and birdshot fired at them.

Shortly afterwards, Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Khalifa called for a national dialogue to resolve the crisis.

However, the country's main opposition group rejected the offer.

Speaking from the Pearl Roundabout shortly after protesters entered on Saturday, Ali Ahmed said the people's passion for change is stronger than their fear of the authorities.

"I was coming here and I was telling myself and the family - I don't care whether I die or live, but if I die I'll bring you freedom. If I live, I'll live the freedom with you," he said.

Nabeel Rajab from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, described the mood on Saturday as "victorious."

"People feel a little bit of victory, especially because they have lost six lives over the past few days and four lives because of this square. It was a smart move by the government and by the riot police to pull out, because I would expect more people would have been hurt and attacked and we could have had more people dead," said Rajab.

Protests inspired by the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt began in Bahrain on February 14. Originally, demonstrators were calling for more equality, more rights and for the release of political prisoners, but they have since started demanding a new government.