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Bahrain opposition plots strategy before talks

Pressure mounts in Bahrain as protesters reoccupy Pearl Square and opposition groups call for a general strike

AP , Sunday 20 Feb 2011
Pearl
Thousands of protesters gather in Pearl Square in the heart of the Bahraini capital of Manama February 20, 2011, (Reuters).
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Bahrain's opposition leaders were mulling on Sunday on whether to join talks with the country's rulers after nearly a week of protests and deadly clashes.

A leader of the main Shia political bloc, Abdul-Jalil Khalil, said the opposition is considering the monarchy's offer for dialogue, but he noted that no direct talks were yet under way.

Meanwhile, opposition groups are calling for a general strike to increase pressure on the rulers of the strategic Western ally -- home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet.

Hundreds of protesters spent the night Saturday back in the landmark Pearl Square. They reoccupied the site after the withdrawal of security forces, which stormed into the protest camp Thursday in a siege that killed five people.

The royal family, which was quick to use force earlier this week against demonstrators in the landmark square that has been the heart of the anti-government demonstrations, appeared to back away from further confrontation following international pressure from the West.

The demonstrators had sought to reproduce successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in attempting to bring political change to Bahrain.

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, appealed for calm and political dialogue in a brief address on state TV.

People circling through the square after it was reoccupied clapped, whistled and wept. Some wore white sheets symbolising their readiness for martyrdom, while others carried Bahraini flags, flowers and signs that said "Peaceful." In apparent emulation to the semi-permanent camp that dominated downtown Cairo for weeks during the protests there, Bahrainis Saturday night built barriers around the square, set up a medical tent, a sound system and deployed lookouts to warn of approaching security forces.

President Barack Obama discussed the situation with King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, asking him to hold those responsible for the violence accountable. He said in a statement that Bahrain must respect the "universal rights" of its people and embrace "meaningful reform."

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