Embattled King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa frees 23 political prisoners in response to the pleas voiced during mass pro-government rally
Bahrain protesters vowed Wednesday not to budge from Pearl Square, epicenter of anti-regime demonstrations one day after the largest mass demonstration clogged the main roads of Manama.
Protesters were chanting: "We are brothers, Sunnis and Shiites. We shall not abandon this country." "We shall never be humiliated," shouted one woman, evoking a slogan that blared out of megaphones across the square, now renamed "Martyrs' Roundabout" by demonstrators to honor those martyred in a deadly police raid early Thursday.
Embattled King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa freed 23 political prisoners following a royal pardon in response to the pleas voiced during a mass pro-government rally on Monday.
The royal pardon also includes Freedom Islamic Movement secretary general Said al-Shihabi, who lives in London along with Hassan Mashaima, leader of the opposition Haq movement. The two were being tried in absentia.
Protesters are saying they want nothing less than to bring the regime down, but official opposition groups have stopped short of voicing the same intent, instead demanding the resignation of the government, the implementation of reforms and the creation of a "real constitutional monarchy." The opposition has also demanded an "impartial" probe to identify those behind the killing of the seven protesters so far by police and has requested the formation of a "national salvation" government.
In a statement late Tuesday, leading Muslim clerics called for more demonstrations on Friday to "mourn the martyrs" urging protesters to again march to Pearl Square.
Faced with trouble at home, King Hamad is set to travel to Riyadh Wednesday on a trip that coincides with the return of Saudi King Abdullah, who has been away for three months for health reasons. Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia has thrown its weight behind its tiny neighbor and rejected foreign "meddling" in Bahraini internal affairs.
The United States, which headquarters its Fifth Fleet in Manama, has meanwhile expressed content with Bahraini officials' move to start dialogue.