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Opposition Protesters March in Bahrain

Tens of thousands of Bahraini anti-government protesters jam the main highway in Manama, Bahrain, February 22, 2011

Opposition supporters in Bahrain have marched through the center of the capital Manama demanding more rights and a new government. The action comes just more than a week since protests, inspired by the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, began in the Persian Gulf kingdom.

Tuesday's procession ended at the symbolic Pearl Roundabout, days after security forces cleared out anti-government demonstrators in a bloody crackdown, but the riot police have since pulled back.

Now, many people are calling the area Martyr Square in memory of the men who lost their lives, and it has been transformed into a large opposition campsite. Most of the protesters are Shi'ite Muslims, who represent about two-third of Bahrain's population, but say they are not given the same rights as the country's Sunni minority.

Young boys show their support for the Bahraini government, February 21, 2011
Young boys show their support for the Bahraini government, February 21, 2011

On Monday, thousands of government supporters converged outside a mosque in Manama to show their disapproval of the anti-government demonstrations. Many people at that rally said they were scared that the opposition supporters would push Bahrain down the same path as Iran, which has a majority Shi'ite population.

At Tuesday's anti-government march, protester Ahmed Nasser said the comparisons between Bahrain's Shi'ite community and Iran are baseless.

"We are not with Iran," said Nasser. "Who wants Iran? Iran is there if I want, I can live there. With my salary right now, I can live very rich in Iran. I need my country. This is where I belong."

Nasser went on to stress that the opposition demonstrators are trying hard not to make their campaign a sectarian conflict.

"We are saying no Shi'ite, no Sunni, we are all [one] union," added Nasser.

Bahrain's crown prince has called for a national dialogue to help defuse the political unrest. However, opposition leaders say they will not enter talks until they finalize a list of their demands.

On Monday, it was announced that this year's Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix, scheduled to take place in March, was cancelled because of the political instability in the country.
Opposition demonstrator Ibrahim Khalid said it could be the first in a series of setbacks for the country if compromises are not reached.

"The situation will get worse, much worse," said Khalid.

Bahrain is a strategic ally of the United States and home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.