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Protesters Push Back In Bahrain


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Anti-government protests continue today throughout the Arab world with mixed results. In Algeria police broke up a rally by thousands of pro-democracy supporters. Libya is tense as mourners in Bengazi gathered to bury some of the dozens of protestors shot to death by Moammar Gadhafi forces this week.

And there are thousands in the streets today in Bahrain. Protestors have been bracing for confrontation with riot police, but government officials ordered the police to back off and allow peaceful demonstrations.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Bahrain's capital. Peter, thanks for joining us.


SIMON: Where are you, what can you see?

KENYON: I am in the Pearl roundabout, this traffic circle that has become the symbol of the opposition movement here in Bahrain. It is filled with thousands of demonstrators, initially men and now women and children; families have joined in.

There's a lot of Bahraini flags flying. There's no sign whatsoever of either the troops that were here yesterday or the riot police that lingered a little while after the troops left. And there is still a helicopter circling overhead, but every time it does, a cheer goes off and the crowd taunts it and waves and smiles at it. It's just a scene of joy again. Such a sharp contrast to what we saw yesterday.

SIMON: Yeah. So noting what seems to be the lack of police presence now and the inclination of authorities to let the protest continue, how has the royal family responded to the protests and what protesters have been saying?

KENYON: The latest thing we've heard is that a national day of mourning has been declared, and it may be significant that that news came from the Crown Prince, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, who seems to have been given control of the situation, at least for the time being.

The King asked the Crown Prince to launch a national dialogue, the opposition said, well, you can't dialogue if you're going to have troops out here killing us, and so the troops left. And then the opposition said look, we're a little -we will negotiate from the Pearl roundabout. We won't negotiate from somewhere else, this is the symbol of our movement. You have not right to keep us out of here as long as we're peaceful.

And this afternoon after a bit of a standoff, there was razor wire between riot police and demonstrators holding flowers, the order was given. The police pulled out, they drove away, and a mass of people just flooded into the Pearl roundabout again.

SIMON: Peter, from what you can tell, does the opposition seem to have a strategy?

KENYON: The strategy is still a bit incoherent I have to say. I talked with Ibrahim Sharif, who is the head of one of the parties, not one that's inside the parliament; has a little more respect on the street, perhaps you could say. He said a lot of these decisions are being made on the ground. The parties aren't really in charge, it's the people, and as you know, there's no one leader here for this movement, so it really in part will depend on how the government responds.

Will the Crown Prince who is known to be on the moderate side of things keep things peaceful as these demonstrators seem to show no sign of leaving. That's the big question now, what will happen next.

SIMON: And any outside influences that we should understand on the situation there?

KENYON: There are some very big influences right in the region. There's a great fear in one direction from Iran, and that fear is being generated in the other direction in Saudi Arabia, where they worry about Shiite uprisings. The people here are mostly Shiite, the majority of this country is Shiite, but they're ruled by Suuni royal family.

And then there's the U.S. pressure. It loves the military being here as a strategic ally. So there's a lot of pressures there in which way it goes, and it's very much an open question there. Things have been swinging back and forth day to day.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Bahrain, thanks so much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.