News / Middle East

Bahrainis Call for Political Reforms

Thousands of Bahrainis turned out for a rally for political reforms on Saturday, following the government's decision to lift state-of-emergency rules barring such gatherings.

Witnesses say helicopters passed overhead as the demonstrators rallied in a mostly Shi'ite area near the capital, Manama.  However, security forces did not intervene.

The government lifted martial law in Bahrain on June 1.  Emergency regulations had been imposed in March to suppress protest rallies by members of the Gulf state's Shi'ite majority and other Bahrainis demanding a greater role in the kingdom's Sunni-led government.

The official Bahrain News Agency said Saturday that the king King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa appointed parliament speaker Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Dhahrani to lead a national dialogue on reforms, due to begin on July 1.

The king was quoted as saying such talks would help Bahrainis reach "common understandings" reflecting national unity.

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Bahrain's decision to hold national talks when he met in Washington Tuesday with Bahrain's crown prince, Salman bin Hamad bin al-Khalifa.

Bahrain is a key U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf and home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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