Thousands of Bahraini pro-democracy activists have re-established a tent camp in the main square of their capital as they consider an offer of dialogue from the minority Sunni rulers of the small Gulf kingdom.
Hundreds of the activists slept in Manama’s Pearl Square early Sunday, after thousands streamed into the area the previous day, celebrating the withdrawal of security forces on orders from the ruling Al-Khalifa family.
The activists set up tents, barriers and other facilities in the square, reviving an encampment they had established last Tuesday, but which police destroyed Thursday in a pre-dawn raid that killed five protesters and wounded about 230 others.
Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa said Saturday he had ordered security forces to stay away from Pearl Square following international condemnation of the crackdown on protesters. He also called for all parties to join the government in a dialogue on political reforms.
Bahraini youth activists rejected that appeal Sunday and used a Facebook page to call for a general strike to press their demands.
The main opposition Wefaq party of majority-Shi’ite Bahrain has called for the resignation of the government and constitutional changes to strip the monarchy of its powers to appoint key government officials. The party withdrew its lawmakers from parliament last week in protest at the crackdown.
The predominantly-Sunni neighboring kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued a statement Sunday, urging Bahrainis to be “reasonable” and “accept” their Sunni rulers’ offer of talks aimed at stabilizing the island state.
The White House says U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon spoke by phone with Crown Prince Salman Saturday and expressed support for Bahrain’s pledges of restraint and dialogue in dealing with the crisis. It also quotes Donilon as saying Bahrain’s stability depends on respect for “universal rights” of the population and a process of “meaningful reform.”
Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and is also a regional offshore banking center. Its Sunni monarchy has long been a strategic ally of the United States in efforts to fight terrorism and counter predominantly-Shi’ite Iran’s regional influence.