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Tank, troops pull out from Bahrain capital

A newly erected signboard shows the direction toward Al Farooq Junction (previously the Bahrain GCC Roundabout or Pearl Square

Source | AP
MANAMA | 01 June 2011

Tanks and soldiers left the heart of Bahrain’s capital as emergency rule was lifted Wednesday, but authorities warned they were not easing pressure on anti-government groups in the Gulf kingdom.

The military withdrew from the center of Manama but kept police at numerous checkpoints around the city.

Bahrain imposed emergency rule in mid-March, giving the military wide powers to suppress demonstrations inspired by other revolutions sweeping Arab nations around the Middle East and North Africa.

At least 30 people have been killed since the protests for more rights and greater freedoms began in February in the Western-allied island nation, which hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet. Bahrain invited 1,500 troops from neighboring Gulf countries to help suppress the unrest when emergency rule was imposed.

The troops from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will remain indefinitely in Bahrain. They arrived to the kingdom in mid-March as part of the far-reaching crackdown that included hundreds of arrests of activists, journalists, political figures, athletes and professionals such as doctors and lawyers.

After the military withdrawal Wednesday, riot police were sent to  outskirts of the capital to disperse some gatherings. But it was not immediately clear whether government opponents were trying to stage new protests.

Dozens of police vehicles rushed to Diraz, a village southwest of Manama that has long been the center of dissent before anti-government protests started. Heavy police presence was reported in other villages as people were leaving mosques after evening prayers.

Armored police vehicles and riot police were guarding Pearl Square in an apparent attempt to prevent opposition supporters from heading there to reclaim the former center of Bahrain’s revolt.

The Justice Ministry on Tuesday called the demonstrations “criminal acts and abuses against the nation’s security and unity” and warned that any further challenges will have “consequences.”

The sharply worded statement contrasted with a message from King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa urging “unity talks” with protest factions beginning in July — a gesture that falls short of opposition demands.

On Tuesday, King Hamad had called for national dialogue beginning in July. He appealed for “all necessary steps to prepare for a serious dialogue, comprehensive and without preconditions, adding that it should “start from July 1.”

After the protests began in February, the king charged Crown Prince Salman with opening a national dialogue, a call that was dismissed by the opposition until various preconditions were met.

“Today marks the final day of the State of National Safety (state of emergency) in Bahrain and the military forces have begun their withdrawal from the streets,” Prince Salman was on Tuesday quoted in a government statement as saying.

 

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