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Bahrain protesters in show of force

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Thousands of Bahraini mourners participate in a funeral march for a man who died during clashes (AP)

Thousands of Bahraini mourners participate in a funeral march for a man who died during clashes (AP)

A pro-government protester waves a Bahraini flag as he stands on the top of a mosque overlooking the crowd in Manama (AP)

A pro-government protester waves a Bahraini flag as he stands on the top of a mosque overlooking the crowd in Manama (AP)

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Thousands of Bahraini mourners participate in a funeral march for a man who died during clashes (AP)

Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters have flooded Bahrain's capital in a massive show of force against the embattled monarchy.

Upbeat, determined demonstrators took over Manama for the day, circling the Bahrain Mall and the financial district, symbols of the country's recent prosperity, in a march to the heart of the protest at Pearl Square.

"Egypt, Tunisia, are we any different?" marchers chanted, calling for the Sunni rulers they accuse of discriminating against the island's Shiite majority to fall as the presidents of two other Arab countries have in recent weeks.

Helicopters hovered overhead but security forces offered no resistance after opening fire on protesters last week, and the size of the event rivalled any of the major demonstrations so far in the eight-day uprising.

Earlier Bahrain's king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa offered to release several political prisoners in his latest attempt to appease the demonstrators.

It underlined how much the absolute rulers want to kickstart reform talks with opposition leaders, and the huge march in a nation of 525,000 citizens showed how much they need to.

The exact number of prisoners to be freed remains unclear but they will include some of the 25 Shiite activists on trial for allegedly plotting against the monarchy.

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Two of those in the case are being tried in their absence, including prominent opposition leader Hassan Meshaima, who has been in self-exile in London since last year. His return to Bahrain was imminent, his supporters said.

His presence could bolster opposition forces seeking a harder line against the Bahrain dynasty, including some who have called for the complete removal of the king and the family that has ruled for more than 200 years.

A small group of Bahraini army officers joined the ranks of protesters to demand reforms and the resignation of the current government. They condemned the soldiers who shot at protesters on Friday.


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