King of Bahrain assigns crown prince to start national dialogue

GCC ministerial council backs Bahrain, rejects foreign intervention in its affairs

More casualties in clashes between protesters and security forces

Pro-government marches in Bahrain

Dozens killed, wounded in Friday protests in Yemen

More than 50 killed, 200 wounded in Libya demonstrations

Syrians march in protest against police conduct

Egypt’s army says won’t field presidential candidate, issues decision to increase payments

Bahrain’s king has offered a national dialogue "with all parties" in a conciliatory move to resolve a crisis that has killed six people since it began and wounded hundreds, rocking the key regional ally of the U.S.

More than 60 people were in hospital undergoing treatment for wounds sustained when Bahraini security forces fired on protesters as they headed to Pearl Square.

Members of Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition bloc, said one of the wounded was in extremely critical condition.

The shootings occurred on a day of mass mourning when Shiites buried the four people killed a day earlier in the police raid on the Pearl Square traffic circle.

In response to protests against his government that have drawn thousands of people on to the streets, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa said the crown prince had been granted "all the powers to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of all gracious citizens from all sections" in the national dialogue.

President Barack Obama spoke with the king on Friday evening, condemning the violence and urging the government to show restraint. Obama said the stability of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Middle East fleet, depended upon respect for the rights of its people, according to the White House.

The unrest has presented the United States with a now familiar dilemma in the region. It is torn between its desire for stability in a long-standing Arab ally and a need to uphold its own principles about the right of people to demonstrate for democratic change.

"This violence is exactly what the administration and the U.S. want to avoid," said Robert Danin, a Middle East expert at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

The crown prince of the non-OPEC minor oil producer, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, appealed on TV for calm. "Today is the time to sit down and hold a dialogue, not to fight," he said.

Bahrain's state media appeared to have adopted a softer tone after the conciliatory messages from the king and the crown prince, with TV commentators stressing the need for the Shiite and Sunni communities to overcome differences.

The unrest in the regional banking hub has shaken foreign confidence in the economy who will be looking for any signs that protesters will take the king's offer seriously.

In 1999, King Hamad enacted a constitution allowing elections for a parliament with some powers, but royals still dominate a cabinet led by the king's uncle -- premier for 40 years.

Bahrain's Shiite Muslims account for about 70 percent of the population which is governed by the Sunni Al Khalifa dynasty.

Shiites feel cut out of decision-making, as well as from jobs in the army and security forces.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the reports of soldiers firing on protesters were an "extremely worrying development".

"I welcome the proposal of the king of Bahrain that the crown prince should initiate a dialogue between the different communities," he said in a statement. "Bahrain should take further steps on reforms that meet legitimate aspirations for greater social and political freedoms."

Both the United States and Saudi Arabia see Bahrain as a bulwark against Shiite Iran. Saudi Arabia especially fears unrest spreading to its own Shiite community, a minority concentrated in the eastern oil-producing area of the world's biggest crude exporter.

Ali Ibrahim, deputy chief of medical staff at Salmaniya hospital, said 66 wounded had been admitted from the clash and that four were in a critical condition.

About 1,000 people gathered outside one hospital, some spilling into the corridors as casualties were brought in, including one with a bloody sheet over his head. Some men wept.

Shiite women in long black robes and nurses, chanted "Death to the Khalifas (royal family)." Hussein Makhtom said: "We are ready for a thousand of us to die for us to get our rights in Bahrain."

Fakhri Abdullah Rashed said he had seen soldiers shooting at protesters in Pearl Square. "I saw people shot in several parts of their body. It was live bullets," the protester added.

Jalal Firooz, an MP for Wefaq, the main Shiite bloc whose 17 members resigned from the 40-seat assembly, said demonstrators had been holding a memorial for a protester killed earlier this week when riot police fired tear gas at them. Four people had been killed and 231 wounded when riot police raided the protest camp.

Friday's mourners then made for Pearl Square, where army troops opened fire, Firooz said.

Soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles later took control of the square, which the mainly Shiite protesters had hoped to use as a base like Cairo's Tahrir Square, the heart of protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11.

In Yemen, security forces and pro-government loyalists clashed with crowds demanding an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 32-year rule in several cities on Friday. At least five people were killed and dozens wounded.

Doctors said four people died from gunfire in the southern port of Aden, where resentment against rule from Sana’a runs high. One was killed by a grenade in Taiz, Yemen's second city.

At least 11 people were wounded in Aden, where thousands of protesters angered by what they said was excessive force by security forces stayed in the streets for hours.

Some broke away and set fire to a building formerly used by police, others threw rocks at a local government office in the heart of the southern port town, witnesses said.

They shouted: "Ali, listen, Ali, the people want you out." Hundreds of protesters later staged a sit-in in the center of Aden to protest against the killing of demonstrators.

Saleh, a U.S. ally against a Yemen-based al-Qaeda wing that has launched attacks at home and abroad, is struggling to end month-old protests flaring across his impoverished country.

Tens of thousands of dissidents also thronged the city of Taiz, 200 km (130 miles) south of Sana’a, the capital. One was killed and 28 were wounded, three critically, when a hand grenade thrown from a car exploded in the crowd, doctors said.

An interior ministry official said police had apprehended a suspect, but protesters blamed the attack on the government.

"It's shameful the government resorts to such tactics, but it won't scare us," said a protester who asked not to be named.

"Down with the dictator, down with oppression," chanted the protesters camped for days in Taiz's Hurriya (freedom) Square in imitation of Egyptian demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Tens of thousands of Saleh loyalists also took to the streets of Taiz. State television put the number at a million.

"Yes to unity and stability, no to chaos and sabotage," the loyalists shouted, echoing remarks made by Saleh a few days ago warning of a "foreign agenda" to create chaos in the Arab world.

Saleh, whose country is mired in poverty, is also struggling to quash al Qaeda militants, defuse a southern separatist revolt and maintain a shaky truce with northern Shiite rebels.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was "deeply concerned" about reports of violence from Bahrain, a close U.S. ally, Libya and Yemen and urged governments to show restraint in dealing with protesters.

Analysts say any struggle to unseat Saleh could prove bloodier than popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt because Yemen is driven by tribal and regional conflicts and awash with guns.

Saleh, a master at juggling tribal and political loyalties, has been touring Yemen to drum up support, aware of the gravity of the protests that have gained momentum in the past month.

"The stakes certainly are high, and I don't think he will go down without a major fight -- but this does not look good," said Charles Dunbar, of Boston University.

In Sana’a, at least 5,000 anti-Saleh protesters thronged around Al Jazeera television's offices to show support for a channel that has given blanket coverage to the regional unrest.

"You're next after Mubarak, Ali" they shouted, holding signs saying "Leave, leave for the sake of our future."

Hundreds of Saleh loyalists shouting "No to chaos, no to sabotage," attacked anti-Saleh protesters with sticks, daggers and rocks. Dozens on both sides were wounded.

Many activists and journalists said they were attacked by Saleh loyalists with police making no effort to interfere.

"We are trying to hide but the security forces are pointing out our locations to the thugs," Amnesty International quoted one activist as saying. "We are very scared, particularly because there are children with us."

Some journalists told Reuters they fled protests, chased by plainclothes police, ducking into restaurants and climbing onto roofs. Others said they were beaten as police stood by.

"I was beaten by plainclothes police, and the riot police just stood there. Finally, some protesters came and rescued me," said Samia al-Aghbari, a journalist for an opposition newspaper.

The U.S. embassy said attacks on demonstrators contradicted Saleh's commitments to protect the right to peaceful protest.

"The embassy urges the government to prevent any further attacks on peaceful demonstrations," it said on its website.

Thousands of protesters also rallied in the southern city of Mukalla. Police fired in the air and used tear gas to try and disperse them. Three people were wounded, protesters said.

Saleh, in a sop to protesters, has promised to step down when his term ends in 2013 and not to hand power to his son.

A coalition of opposition parties, which had laid on rallies that drew tens of thousands, has now agreed to talk to him, but smaller, more spontaneous protests have continued, organized by students and others using mobile text messages and Facebook.

In Libya, security forces killed another 35 people in the eastern city of Benghazi late on Friday, Human Rights Watch cited witnesses and hospital sources as saying, in the worst unrest of Moammar Gadhafi's four decades in power.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the killings on Friday took to 84 its estimate for the death toll over three days of protests — most of its focused in the restive region around Benghazi, 1,000 km east of Tripoli.

It said the deaths in the city on Friday happened when security forces opened fire on people protesting after funeral processions for people killed in earlier violence. There has been no official word on the number of dead.

"We put out a call to all the doctors in Benghazi to come to the hospital and for everyone to give blood because I've never seen anything like this before," the group quoted a senior hospital official in Benghazi as saying.

Protests against Gaddafi's rule this week, inspired by uprisings in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, were met with a fierce crackdown, but restrictions on media have made it difficult to establish the full extent of the violence.

"Special forces who have a very strong allegiance to Gaddafi are still fighting desperately gain to control, to gain ground and the people are fighting them street by street," said a resident of Benghazi identified as Mohammed by the BBC.

The broadcaster said residents in Benghazi reported there was no electricity in parts of the city and that tanks were stationed outside the court building.

While the level of unrest has not previously been seen before in the oil exporter, Libya-watchers say the situation is different from Egypt, because Gaddafi has oil cash to smooth over social problems. Gaddafi is also respected in much of the country, though less so in the Cyrenaica region around Benghazi.

"For sure there is no national uprising," said Noman Benotman, a former opposition Libyan Islamist who is based in Britain but is currently in Tripoli.

"I don't think Libya is comparable to Egypt or Tunisia. Gaddafi would fight to the very last moment," he said by telephone from the Libyan capital.

The BBC said one Benghazi protester said some soldiers had switched sides and that people clambered unopposed onto three tanks.

"The soldiers say we are citizens of this country and we cannot fight our citizens," he said.

Tight government control and media restrictions have limited the amount of information emerging about the unrest.

Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera said its signal was being jammed on several frequencies and its website had been blocked in Libya.

The privately owned Quryna newspaper said that in Benghazi thousands of residents had gathered on Friday for the funeral processions of 14 protesters killed in clashes there. Thousands more had demonstrated in front of Benghazi court building.

Opposition activists said protesters fought troops for control of the nearby town of Al Bayda, scene of some of the worst violence over the past two days, where townspeople said they were burying 14 people who were killed in earlier clashes.

Residents said that by Friday evening the streets were calm but there were conflicting accounts about whether opposition activists or security forces were in control of the town.

The unrest though was not on a national scale with most protests confined to the east around Benghazi, where support for Gaddafi has traditionally been weak. There were no reliable reports of major protests elsewhere, and state media said there had been pro-Gaddafi rallies in the capital.

Quryna newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying the General People's Congress, or parliament, would adopt a "major shift" in government policy including appointing new people to senior positions. It gave no details and the sources could not be clarified.

A sermon at Friday prayers in Tripoli, broadcast on state television, urged people to ignore reports in foreign media "which doesn't want our country to be peaceful, which . . . is the aim of Zionism and imperialism, to divide our country".

Text messages sent to mobile phone subscribers thanked people who ignored calls to join protests. "We congratulate our towns which understood that interfering with national unity threatens the future of generations," it said.

Meanwhile, an assistant to Egypt's defense minister told Reuters that the country’s army will not field a candidate in the presidential election following the toppling of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

There will be "no presidential candidate from the military establishment in upcoming presidential elections," Maj. Gen. Mokhtaar Mullah said at a news conference.

In Damascus, Syrian human rights activists say 1,500 people demonstrated in the Damascus neighborhood of Al Hariqa after a young man was unjustly beaten by police.

According to staff at the Washington-based Freedom House, Syria's interior minister promised to hold police accountable for the beating. Syrian human rights groups have called for an investigation.

Freedom House said in a statement that protesters gathered spontaneously, chanting, "The Syrian people will not be humiliated," and demanding police be held accountable. The demonstration continued for three hours, according to the statement.

The group also posted video on YouTube of the protest, filmed by a local human rights group.