Bowing to Opposition, Bahraini Military Pulls Out of City Square

The military withdrawal represented a response to one of the opposition's demands for holding negotiations.

The Middle East was ablaze over the weekend once again. Nearly every Arab or Muslim country in the region saw some sort of clash between the opposition and the local security forces. The most serious clashes took place in Bahrain and Libya, while elsewhere - including Jordan, Iran, Syria, Yemen, and Algeria - demonstrations both for and against the regimes were staged.

The Bahraini armed forces pulled out of Pearl Square in the capital of Manama yesterday, allowing the thousands of protesters who had arrived at the site to celebrate. The military withdrawal represented a response to one of the opposition's demands for holding negotiations.

Demonstrators showed up at the square in the city center with red and yellow flowers and Bahraini flags, certain the army was going to open fire, as it had done on Friday.

Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad told CNN that he had ordered the army to pull back and that the demonstrators would be allowed to express their protest peacefully in the square. The prince was appointed by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to try and reach understandings with the opposition.

The decision to withdraw followed a telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, who protested the use of force against demonstrators.

Even though the army has pulled out of the city, Bahraini police forces have resumed positions around the square.

So far four people have been reported dead in the clashes between Shi'ite protesters, the majority group in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and the security forces, loyal to the Sunni regime.

The Bahraini military is not comprised of locals, but of mercenaries from outside countries, including Yemen and Pakistan; as such, soldiers had no qualms about opening fire against the demonstrators last week.

According to various reports, hospitals in Manama are filled with injured protesters.

In Yemen's capital of Sanaa, confrontations continued yesterday between armed supporters of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his opponents, without the direct involvement of the local security forces.

At least one person died yesterday in a fire fight between the two camps.

On Friday, five people were reported killed, most in the southern city of Aden.

Yesterday's clashes took place near Sanaa University, when about 1,000 of Saleh's opponents faced a number of his supporters.

Meanwhile in Libya, air force helicopters opened fire against protesters in Benghazi yesterday, according to reports coming out of the country. More than 70 people were reported injured; an undisclosed number were also said to be dead.

There were also reports that Libyan demonstrators managed to set three tanks on fire.

Tunisian news sources reported yesterday that, to date, 84 people have been killed in Libya, most in the city of Benghazi; other estimates hold that the number of casualties has since increased. Two of the dead were said to be policemen.

A Libyan newspaper controlled by one of leader Muammar Gadhafi's sons reported that security forces opened fired against demonstrators who had tried to take over a police station in which arms were stored.

The demonstrators are demanding political reforms that would bring to an end the 42-year rule of the colonel.

For the time being, there are no signs that the protests have moved to the Libyan capital of Tripoli; most are being held in Benghazi and Al Bayda.

On Friday, demonstrations in Syria saw more than 1,000 taking to the streets to protest an incident in which a police officer had struck a youth. The demonstrators did not slam President Bashar Assad or his regime, but the spontaneous gathering of protesters is being interpreted as the first Syrian demonstration against the local security forces.

To Israel's east, in Jordan, eight people were reported injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of King Abdullah II.

The opposition in Iran called for demonstrations to commemorate the two young people killed by security forces as they demonstrated for democracy.

In Algeria, riot police surrounded some 500 protesters in the capital Algiers, as they tried to carry out a protest march in the city center. They were attacked by police officers, who apparently beat them as hundreds of supporters of the regime cheered on.