Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa has reshuffled his Cabinet in an apparent gesture to opposition activists holding daily protests demanding democratic reforms.
King Hamad named on Saturday new ministers of cabinet affairs, energy, health and housing. All had previously held senior government positions. Bahrain's Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the king's uncle, also retained the post he has held for four decades.
Bahrain's Shi'ite-led opposition has been demanding the resignation of the whole government, which is dominated by the minority Sunni al-Khalifa family.
Anti-government protesters who have occupied Manama's Pearl Square for days also want the monarchy to transfer powers to an elected government that is representative of the Gulf state's Shi'ite majority. Some protesters say the entire al-Khalifa dynasty must go.
Thousands of protesters marched from Pearl Square to Manama's government and commercial district Saturday, their first foray into the area since they began demonstrating earlier this month.
Many waved Bahraini flags and chanted, "the people want the fall of the regime" as they walked past government buildings. Police did not intervene.
The protesters later returned to Pearl Square to celebrate the return from exile of senior Shi'ite opposition figure Hassan Mushaima earlier in the day. He received a rapturous welcome accompanied by fireworks.
Mushaima said a dialogue proposed by Bahrain's Sunni rulers is not enough to resolve the crisis, and he accused them of repeatedly breaking their promises.
Mushaima had been on trial in absentia for allegedly plotting against the monarchy since October, until King Hamad pardoned him and 24 co-defendants in the case last Tuesday. Mushaima agreed to return to Bahrain from exile in London after the pardon.
A government crackdown on opposition protests that began February 14 killed seven protesters before the island state's rulers agreed, under pressure from their Western allies, to allow peaceful demonstrations to continue.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.