Manama: Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the Bahraini capital, demanding an end to the rule of the country’s Sunni regime.
Waving Bahrain’s flag and chanting anti-government slogans, protesters from all over the Persian Gulf littoral state are heading toward Pearl Square in Manama, the epicenter of the movement, on Friday, the 12th consecutive day of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.
The mass rally is held to honor the victims killed in the recent police crackdown. At least seven protesters have been killed during clashes with security forces since the beginning of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain on February 14.
Protesters demand major reform including the election of the prime minister and the creation of a “real” constitutional monarchy.
Many protesters, mainly Shias, have also called for an end to the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty which has ruled the country for almost two centuries.
While Shias represent nearly 75 percent of the Bahraini population, the country has been ruled by a Sunni royal family since the 18th Century.
Protesters have vowed to remain camped out in Pearl Square and have refused to enter talks with the Crown Prince until their demands are met.
In an attempt to contain massive pro-democracy demonstrations, Bahraini authorities on Wednesday released 23 political prisoners after a pardon by King Hamad. Authorities have also announced a minor cabinet reshuffle.
The Friday’s mass rally came after Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid a short visit to Bahrain, reaffirming Washington’s commitment to embattled King Hamad.
Bahrain is a key US ally in the Middle East and home to Washington’s Fifth Fleet.