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Bahrain protesters defy rally ban

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain have defied a ban by marching on the headquarters of the main opposition party, pressing ahead with their campaign for greater political and civil rights for the nation's Shia Muslims.

The protest in front of Al Wefaq's offices in the capital Manama was a show of defiance by the party that has been the main backer of the Shia majority's 10-month protest movement, aimed at breaking the Sunni dynasty's monopoly on power in the strategically important Arab kingdom in the Persian Gulf.

The government rejected the party's permit request for the demonstration, but thousands of protesters came anyway. They waved Bahraini flags and chanted anti-government slogans despite a massive security presence across the capital.

Opposition supporters poured into Manama from the predominantly Shia villages that ring the capital. The villages have been the scene of almost daily clashes between demonstrators and security forces since the government intensified a punishing crackdown on dissent in March.

Shias represent about 70% of Bahrain's population but are denied top political and security jobs.

In the past decade, Al Wefaq has led a campaign for greater rights for the Shia majority, but with inspiration from the Arab Spring uprisings, protesters took to the streets in February in numbers never seen before in the island nation.

A month later, the party's 18 MPs resigned from parliament to protest against the crackdown.

The party also walked out of government-designed reconciliation talks in July, claiming authorities had no intention of compromising with the opposition. It also boycotted September elections for the vacated seats because of the detention of several of its officials.

Al Wefaq has been staging weekly public gatherings in the past months, but it has usually refrained from doing so without a permit from authorities. In return, Al Wefaq's applications are usually granted, but the request for the latest gathering was rejected.

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