Bahrainis pour into protest square; F1 Grand Prix race scrapped

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 21, 2011 18:19 hrs

Manama: Protesters on Monday escalated calls for an end to the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain as political turmoil sweeping the Gulf kingdom forced the cancellation of the season-opening F1 Grand Prix race.

The mainly-Shiite protesters have called a massive demonstration for Tuesday and expect tens of thousands of people to converge on Pearl Square. Those already there have vowed not to leave until their demands are met.

And a top exiled opposition figure said he planned to return to Bahrain, fuelling pressure on the ruling royal family for reform.

"We will stay here for as long as it takes and ... will continue to offer food to all those here in the square," said Qassem Hassan, a university student who was passing out fruit and water to protesters.

"We are determined to see our demands met."

As protests raged, the kingdom announced in a statement that it would no longer host the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on March 13.

The heir to Bahrain's throne, Crown Prince Salman, said: "At the present time the country's entire attention is focused on building a new national dialogue for Bahrain."

The crown prince has been tasked by his father, King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, with launching a wide-reaching dialogue with the opposition.

But emboldened by Arab uprisings which have toppled the strongmen of Tunisia and Egypt since last month, the opposition has raised the stakes, demanding a "real constitutional monarchy" and the government's resignation.

Protesters gathering in Pearl Square appeared unimpressed by the crown prince's calls for dialogue, calling instead for him to leave.

"Go away Salman, we don't want you either," read a banner carried by a young protester.

Pearl Square has been the focal point of demonstrations that have since February 14 rocked Bahrain.

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