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Bahrain calms down after protests

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Bahraini anti-government protesters sleep outside their tents as others have breakfast at the Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain

Bahraini anti-government protesters sleep outside their tents as others have breakfast at the Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain

Bahraini anti-government protesters wrap themselves up in blankets against morning cold at the Pearl roundabout in Manama

Bahraini anti-government protesters wrap themselves up in blankets against morning cold at the Pearl roundabout in Manama

Bahraini anti-government protesters sleep outside their tents as others have breakfast at the Pearl roundabout in Manama, Bahrain

The streets of Bahrain were calmer on Monday morning as violent protests were exchanged for political haggling over demands the monarchy give up its near-absolute control.

But bitterness and tensions still ran deep after battles that saw riot police opening fire on protesters trying to reclaim landmark Pearl Square and then pulling back to allow them to occupy it.

At least seven people have been killed and hundreds injured since the Arab wave for change reached the Gulf last Monday.

Bahrain's ruling Sunni dynasty has strong backing from other Gulf Arab leaders, who fear that Shiite powerhouse Iran could gain further footholds through the uprising led by Bahrain's Shiite majority. The Shiites often complain of discrimination by the Sunni rulers.

Bahrain's rulers appear desperate to open a political dialogue after sharp criticism from Western allies and statements by organisers of next month's Formula One race that the unrest could force the cancellation of Bahrain's premier international event.

But opposition leaders appeared to be in no hurry to talk.

"Yesterday you kill people and today you want them to sit with you. It's not that easy," said a leader of the main Shiite opposition group Al Wefaq, Abdul-Jalil Khalil. He said no talks have taken place yet.

He said the opposition's main demand is for the resignation of the government that is responsible for this week's bloodshed and has been led by the same prime minister - the king's uncle - for 40 years.

Other demands include abolishing the monarchy's privileges to set policies and appoint all key political posts, along with addressing long-standing claims of discrimination and abuses against Shiites, who represent about 70% of Bahrain's 525,000 citizens.

PA