Manama: Bahraini protesters thronged Manama on Friday to demand the end of the ruling Sunni regime, as visiting US military officer Mike Mullen reaffirmed Washington`s commitment to embattled King Hamad.
Tens of thousands of Shiite protesters headed for Pearl Square, epicentre of daily demonstrations since February 14, chanting: "The people want to topple the regime!"
Young and old, men and women, the demonstrators marched in gender-segregated processions on either side of a main highway, waving the red-and-white flag of Bahrain or draping it across their shoulders.
Some of the protesters carried megaphones, blaring slogans and speeches as the protest snaked towards the square, renamed "Martyrs` Roundabout" in honour of the seven victims of a deadly police raid on a protest last week.
Mullen, meanwhile, wrapped up his visit to Bahrain, a key US ally and home to Washington`s Fifth Fleet, before heading to Kuwait.
The US admiral reaffirmed his country`s support for the monarch`s "handling (of) the popular crisis" and "strong commitment" to Bahrain`s army before leaving Manama, a news agency correspondent said.
The White House said today that a senior US official called Bahrain`s crown prince to urge "continued restraint" by security forces while backing the Gulf kingdom`s national dialogue initiative.
It said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon telephoned Crown Prince Salman to express "strong support" for the open dialogue on political reform which Bahrain`s ruling monarchy pledged to undertake.
Bahrain`s military meanwhile was the centre of angry chants among the crowds in Manama on Friday, who shouted: "How bizarre, how bizarre, the Army`s killing the people."
Leading Shiite clerics had called on the demonstrations to mourn the victims killed by security forces, urging protesters to march en masse today to Pearl Square.
Signs hanging around the square on Friday signalled that the protests were far from over: "We will not accept any dialogue with he who kills us in cold blood," declared one banner hanging from an overpass.
"A free state and a happy people," read another, while a third demanded the government "free all political detainees."
Official opposition groups have stopped short of demanding outright regime change, instead calling for major reforms including the election of the prime minister and the creation of a "real" constitutional monarchy.