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Bahrain anti-regime protesters send police packing

Anti-regime protests in Bahrain chased off police Saturday. The country's main Shiite opposition rejected an offer by King Hamad for dialogue aimed at calming the country's deadly turmoil.

Bahraini Shiite anti-government protestors

The opposition says it will continue until its demands are met

Bahrain's opposition protesters appeared to be gaining strength Saturday after demonstrators sent riot police running in the country's capital.

Crowds of demonstrators converged with riot police on Pearl Square in Manama Saturday, clashing with riot police. The protestors, who ignored King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa's offers for dialogue, overcame law enforcement, who fled the scene in buses.

Military troops withdrew from the square hours earlier at the command of Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa. Tanks had occupied Pearl Square since riot police attacked sleeping protesters Thursday night, killing four people and injuring 231.

EU calls for dialogue

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said in a statement on Saturday that she was "deeply concerned" by the new reports of violence in Bahrain, but that the King Hamad's offer for dialogue was encouraging.

"The dialogue announced by the Bahraini crown prince [al-Khalifa] to meet the demands and aspirations of the people should begin without delay," Ashton said.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa

The opposition spurned Al-Khalifa's call for dialogue

But the main opposition bloc in Bahrain has already rejected the king's offer for dialogue. The opposition insisted that fundamental reforms were a prerequisite for talks with the ruling monarchy.

"Nobody is willing to sit with officials if the military is killing people," said Ibrahim Mattar, member of the Shiite Wefaq bloc which quit parliament on Thursday.

"We don't feel there is a serious will for dialogue because … people are not allowed to protest," Mattar said, adding that talks could only begin after the military vacated the streets and authorities "accepted the concept of constitutional monarchy."

The crowds grew to tens of thousands by Friday in a triumph for the anti-regime protesters. Most of the demonstrators belong to Bahrain's Shiite majority, which claims lack of representation in the Sunni-ruled country.

Bahrain's hospitals reported overcrowding on Saturday, as some 60 to 80 additional patients were brought in after being hit by tear gas or rubber bullets.

On Friday, more than 60 people were taken to the hospital when army units opened fire on protesters who had gathered on the square to support Bahrain's "popular revolution."

Death toll rises in Libya

Meanwhile, violence between security forces and protesters has surged in Libya, as reports surfaced Saturday that 84 people have died there in the last three days.

Moamer Gadhafi

Gadhafi is facing the most difficult crisis of his reign

The head of Human Rights Watch, Joe Storck, said the deadliest violence came on Friday.

"Moammar Gadhafi's security forces are firing on Libyan citizens and killing scores simply because they're demanding change and accountability," Storck said.

Unrest also continued Saturday in Yemen, where one protester was shot dead and another five wounded in clashes between opposition protesters and regime supporters.

Tunisia and Egypt have both seen their autocratic leaders chased out by recent popular uprisings, which are being seen as a model for unrest in several other countries in northern Africa and the Middle East.

Author: Gabriel Borrud, David Levitz (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James

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