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Bahrain protesters rally ahead of anniversary

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Thousands of Bahrainis have begun a week-long rally in a Shia village, 10 days ahead of the first anniversary of the start of pro-democracy protest which was brutally crushed, activists have said.

"The large number of people who participated yesterday [Saturday] wanted to deliver a message to the government that people are determined to keep up the demands that they made on February 14 last year," Matar Matar, a leading Shia opposition activist, told the AFP news agency on Sunday.

"They will use any venue available," he added.

Mostly-Shia protesters occupied Manama's Pearl Square for about a month last year until they were driven out in a heavy-handed mid-March crackdown.

The "steadfast" rally began in the afternoon in al-Muqsha village, about 7km west of Manama, the capital, and continued until 11:00 pm (2000 GMT).

It will reconvene at the same time on Sunday, according to Matar, a former MP.

Sheikh Ali Salman, a Shia cleric and leader of al-Wefaq, the main Shia opposition grouping, urged demonstrators to rename the rally spot in the village as "Freedom Square," insisting that people have decided that "there will be no return to pre-February 14".

"It is impossible that Bahrain remains without equality between its people," he said, according to the al-Wefaq Facebook page.

Although al-Wefaq said that the protest would last a week, the interior ministry announced on Friday that the demonstration had been authorised for two days only.

Matar said that his party informed the interior ministry that it intends to hold a seven-day rally, after it did not get authorisation to organise an open-ended demonstration.

During the month-long protest last year, the Shia-led opposition demanded significant constitutional changes that would reduce the power of the Sunni al-Khalifa ruling dynasty, including through having an elected prime minister.

Tensions have remained high in Bahrain since the initial deadly crackdown, and sporadic violence has risen in recent weeks as the first anniversary approaches of the launch of the protests.


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