Confrontations continue between security forces, protesters in several countries

Bahrain monarch calls for dialogue, evacuation of squares

Yemen’s president orders protection of protesters, renews calls for dialogue

Jordan king wants rapid, genuine reforms, national dialogue

Opposition escalates protests in Iran

Bahrain protesters showed no sign of retreat Thursday as an anti-government uprising entered its 11th day and opposition groups said the state had not yet met their pre-conditions for dialogue.

In a sign they had no intention of leaving Manama's Pearl Square, demonstrators overnight renamed it "Martyrs' Roundabout," hoisting Bahrain's red-and-white flag bearing the new name to honor the seven victims of deadly police raids on the protests.

"Whoever thinks they can liquidate our cause by suggesting dialogue is under illusion," read a large banner hanging between two palm trees at the tent city in Pearl Square.

Thousands of mainly Shiite protesters have daily poured into Pearl Square since February 14, many demanding the end of the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled Bahrain, a majority Shiite country, for over 200 years.

Official opposition groups have stopped short of voicing the same demands, calling instead for major reforms including the election of a prime minister and the creation of a "real" constitutional monarchy.

In a statement Wednesday, the opposition coalition said a call for dialogue by Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa lacked "foundations."

Dialogue should be "built on clear foundations," the statement read, adding: "None of these foundations were mentioned in the crown prince's invitation to dialogue."

The opposition has demanded the resignation of the government headed by King Hamad's uncle, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman, as a pre-requisite for dialogue.

Bahrain's opposition includes the Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), the kingdom's largest Shiite group, and six other Shiite, liberal, leftist and Arab nationalist groups.

The INAA controls 18 seats in the 40-members parliament. The bloc has quit parliament in protest at the killing of the demonstrators.

In a bid to reach out to protesters, King Hamad this week ordered the release of several Shiite prisoners under royal pardon.

A number of those released, who had been under trial for terrorism and plotting to overthrow the regime, appeared at Pearl Square late Wednesday, an AFP correspondent said.

Some of the released activists have claimed they were tortured in prison.

"They only dealt with us through electric shocks, beating and insults," one of the pardoned activists, Sheikh Mohammed Habib al-Muqdad, told the local Al-Wasat daily.

One of those pardoned, leader of the Haq movement Hassan Mashaima, was detained in Lebanon while traveling to Manama from Britain, a judicial official in Beirut said Thursday.

Mashaima was arrested Tuesday at Beirut airport based on an arrest warrant issued by Interpol, the official told AFP, adding that Lebanese authorities were seeking legal documents proving he had been pardoned.

Initial reports said 25 activists under trial had been pardoned -- 23 of whom had been in detention and were freed -- but a government statement late Wednesday put the number of released prisoners at 308.

The statement also said authorities would launch a probe into the torture allegations.

"The government of Bahrain takes allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigate all and any claims made," it read.

And while the majority of protesters continue to demand the toppling of the regime, echoing successful calls in Egypt and Tunisia, some are saying they do not necessarily want to see their king toppled.

"We do not demand the fall of the king. We want a government elected by the people," said Qassem Zainedine, 26, a sports instructor who is camping at Pearl Square.

Leading Shiite clerics have called for more demonstrations to mourn the victims, urging protesters again to march en masse to Pearl Square.

After a deadly police raid a week ago, security forces have been commanded not to use force with demonstrators.

Bahrain is a key ally of regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and the United States, which bases its Fifth Fleet in the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ordered his security forces to protect demonstrators trying to end his 32-year rule, a statement said.

The statement, relayed by the Yemeni press attaché in Washington on Thursday, said Saleh had "demanded security services to offer full protection for the demonstrators."

"Late this evening (Wednesday) ... Saleh instructed all security services to thwart all clashes and prevent direct confrontation between pro- and anti-government protesters... "Furthermore, the government calls on protesters to remain vigilant and take all precautionary steps to prevent the infiltrations of individuals seeking to carry out violent actions.

"The government ... will continue to protect the rights of its citizens to assemble peacefully and their right to freedom of expression," the statement said.

Fifteen people have been killed in unrest shaking Yemen since last week. Saleh has said he will not give in to what he described as opponents advocating anarchy.

Pro-Saleh loyalists wielding clubs and daggers have often sought to break up opposition protests in Sana’a and elsewhere.

Nine members of parliament have quit Saleh's ruling party in protest at what they described as government violence against demonstrators, parliamentarians said on Wednesday.

About 80 percent of lawmakers still back the president. "The people must have the right to demonstrate peacefully," Abdulaziz Jubari, one of the MPs to resign, told Reuters.

Jubari said the assembly members had sent a 10-point letter to Saleh with demands for immediate reform and restructuring of the army to make it more representative of Yemen's complex society, and to aid a transition to genuine democracy.

Saleh has already made significant verbal concessions to the opposition, promising to step down when his term ends in 2013 and not to try to bequeath power to his son.

But opposition parties are suspicious of his calls for dialogue because of the violence used against protesters.

In Amman, Jordan's King Abdullah II on Sunday urged speedy reforms, comprehensive dialogue and more efforts to battle corruption amid popular discontent and pro-reform protests.

"When I talk about reform, it means that I want real and fast reforms," the king told government officials, MPs, senators and members of the judiciary, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

"Political reforms need to be modern. I am waiting for government recommendations about a mechanism for a comprehensive dialogue to help achieve political development."

The king called on the government and parliament to "move swiftly to deal with any issue related to corruption."

"If you suspect corruption, start an investigation immediately.

If you find out that the corruption accusations are untrue, make this clear... irresponsible talk harms the country," he said.

Jordanians have been demonstrating since January to demand political and economic reform, calling for an end to corruption and for suspected corrupt officials to be put on trial, regardless of their rank.

Witnesses and medics said that a mob wielding batons waded into a pro-reform protest in Amman injuring eight people in the first such violence since protests began in Jordan.

The government has condemned the violence, and Justice Minister Hussein Mujalli said on Sunday a probe into the incident was under way.

Meanwhile, the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat reported that Iran has recruited at least 1,500 Hezbollah fighters to protect the mullah regime. The Saudi-owned newspaper said Iran brought the Hezbollah officers from Lebanon to Teheran this month amid plans by the opposition to renew protests.

In a report on Feb. 21, A-Sharq Al Awsat said the Hezbollah fighters were deployed in plain clothes to patrol the streets of Teheran. The newspaper said Hezbollah was ordered to assault anti-government protests, particularly in the Iranian capital.

Over the last five years, the Iranian opposition has reported the use of Hamas as well as Hezbollah to quell unrest.

Opposition sources said the mercenaries were often deployed with Iran's Basij, a paramilitary force trained for urban warfare.

The opposition was said to have reorganized amid the riots that toppled the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia. At least two people have been killed in clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters in Teheran.

Earlier, Hezbollah was said to have been deployed in Syria to protect the regime of President Bashar Assad. Opposition sources said about 2,000 Hezbollah fighters crossed from Lebanon to Syria and were stationed around critical facilities.