MANAMA (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters in Bahrain swarmed back into a symbolic square on Saturday, putting riot police to flight in a striking victory for their cause.
Crowds had approached Pearl Square in Manama from different directions, creating a standoff with riot police who had moved in earlier to replace troops withdrawn on royal orders.
Suddenly police raced to their buses, which drove away mounting kerbs in their haste to escape.
The protesters, cheering and waving national flags, ran to the center of the traffic circle, reoccupying it even before all the police had left. The crowd waved fleeing policemen through.
“We don’t fear death any more, let the army come and kill us to show the world what kind of savages they are,” said Umm Mohammed, a teacher wearing a black abaya cloak.
Troops in tanks and armored vehicles earlier withdrew from the square, which they had taken over on Thursday after riot police staged a night-time attack on sleeping protesters who had camped out there, killing four people and wounding 231.
The crowds in Pearl Square soon swelled into the tens of thousands, celebrating a triumph for the mostly Shi’ite protesters who took to the streets on Monday, inspired by popular revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.
The authorities had been determined to prevent protesters from turning Pearl Square into a base like Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of a revolt that ousted Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
Bahrain’s 70 percent Shi’ite majority has long felt discriminated against in the Gulf Arab island that is ruled by a Sunni Muslim dynasty and is a close U.S. and Saudi ally.
Shi’ites feel cut out of decision-making and complain of unfair treatment in access to state jobs and housing.
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