Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques discusses developments in Bahrain with Obama

Protests ended in Manama’s main square, curfew imposed during night hours, emergency announced to protect citizens

Bahrain protests Iran’s intervention, recalls ambassador in Tehran

Clinton visits Egypt’s Tahrir Square

Arab League welcomes reforms announced by Morocco’s monarch

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received a telephone call from U.S. President Barrack Obama.

During the conversation, they discussed bilateral relations between the two friendly countries and the latest developments in the region, including the situation in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

King Abdullah also sent a message to President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria on the special relations between the two brotherly countries as well as the latest developments at the Arab arena.

The message was delivered to the President by Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King, during a reception.

During the meeting, President Al-Assad was reassured on the King's health after recovering from a health condition he went through lately, wishing the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques good health and the Saudi people more progress and prosperity.

Bahrain tore down on Friday the statue at the centre of Pearl roundabout, focal point and symbol of weeks of pro-democracy protests in the Gulf island kingdom.

Drills and diggers cut away at the six bases of the statue for hours, until it collapsed into a mound of rubble and steel bars. Trucks stood by to take away the debris.

The concrete statue of six dhow sails holding up a pearl was erected in the early 1980s to mark a summit of formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Each of the six sails represents one of the members of the GCC, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman. The pearl represents the joint heritage of the Gulf countries, whose economies were based on pearl fishing before the discovery of oil.

Mainly Shiite protesters had taken over the grass-covered roundabout near the financial district of Manama during weeks of protests, setting up a tent city where free food was handed out and political speeches and rallies were held into the night.

Bahraini riot police launched a crackdown on the Pearl roundabout protest camp on Wednesday, driving out demonstrators. Military troops later arrived to seal off the area which is under a 12 hour daily curfew.

Bahrain's Sunni monarchy detained at least seven prominent opposition activists Thursday, and Iran recalled its ambassador to protest the Gulf troops backing the government against the Shiite protests that forced martial law-style rule in the island nation.

Bahrain's government is gambling that it can survive the sectarian fault lines that splinter the region, with Sunni leaders in the Gulf sending forces to bolster a regime that they — and the U.S. — see as a bulwark against Shiite Iran's expanding military ambitions.

The Sunni monarchy and its backers are using everything at their disposal to retain power, while Shiites hope their overwhelming population advantage will be their most potent weapon to bring the leadership to its knees. Clashes broke out in a village on the outskirts of the capital Manama.

In Brussels, the European Union and NATO urged Bahrain's authorities to refrain from violence and try to settle the crisis through dialogue.

But Bahrain's ruling system — which once appealed for negotiations — now appears to be shifting to efforts to crush the opposition.

Bahrain's crackdown widened with the detention of at least seven activists, a rights group and relatives of the arrested said.

Bahrain has imposed a three-month emergency rule that gives the military wide powers to battle the pro-democracy uprising that began in mid-February in the strategic nation, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Security forces had an overwhelming presence in parts of central Manama, a day after overrunning a protesters' camp in the capital and clashing with Shiites elsewhere. At least five people were killed — two policemen and three protesters — in Wednesday's assault on the encampment in Pearl Square, according to opposition groups and the government.

The Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights said those taken into custody in the pre-dawn raids Thursday include Hassan Mushaima and Abdul Jalil al-Sangaece — who were among 25 Shiite activists on trial on charges of trying to overthrow the nation's Sunni rulers.

The case was dropped to calm tensions last month, but the latest sweeps suggest authorities have abandoned efforts at dialogue and are trying to silence opposition leaders.

Riot police fired tear gas on several dozen protesters trying to organize a march in the mostly Shiite Manama suburb of Jidhafs, which is less than a half mile (one kilometer) from Pearl Square. As the clash unfolded, residents tried to block police vehicles with makeshift barricades including metal tables, pieces of wood and even gym weights.

The Youth Society group said the detained include Shiite activists Abdulwahid Hussein and Hassan Hadad and Sunni liberal leader Ibrahim Sharif, who had joined with Bahrain's majority Shiites to demand the Sunni monarchy loosen its grip on power.

"I saw men in black pointing a machine gun at my husband saying just one thing: `We are from the state security,'" said Sahrif's wife Farida Guhlam.

A senior opposition leader, Abduljalil Khalil, also said Abdulhadi al-Mokhdar of Wafa was taken into custody. Also in custody was Saeed al-Nouri from the Haq movement.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told CBS News that the introduction of Gulf forces was "the wrong track."

It was a rare hint of agreement with Iran, which has called the Saudi-led reinforcements in Bahrain "unacceptable."

In mostly Shiite southern Iraq, more than 3,000 demonstrators marched in the holy city of Karbala in the second consecutive day of rallies against the outside forces in Bahrain.

Tanks and armored personnel carriers outfitted with machine guns watched over strategic intersections. Soldiers, wearing black ski masks and helmets, manned checkpoints and searched cars. Agents in civilian clothes patrolled wearing green vests and masks.

The remnants of the protesters' barricades — barrels, plywood and trash bins — were strewn over some streets. Nearly all stores and banks were closed and traffic was light. Very few people were walking the streets in the center of the capital.

An 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew was in force and movement was restricted around the country.

Doctors at the country's main hospital said the facility was controlled by security forces, blocking physicians from leaving. The Salmaniya hospital complex has become a political hotspot.

The mostly Shiite personnel are seen by authorities as possible protest sympathizers. The staff claims they must treat all who need care.

"We are under siege," said Nihad el-Shirawi, an intensive care doctor who said she had been working for 48 hours. "We cannot leave, and those on-call cannot come in."

Officials in the hospital said they took in more than 400 people injured in violence Tuesday and Wednesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Britain has urged all its citizens to leave Bahrain unless they have a "pressing reason" to remain. Charter flights were arranged to Dubai.

Bahrain on Tuesday recalled its ambassador to Iran after an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman decried the "unacceptable" presence of foreign troops in Bahrain, Iranian state media reported.

Additional security forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain on Tuesday at the behest of the ruling family in order to help "secure government installations" amid widespread anti-government protests.

"The presence of foreign forces and interference in Bahrain's internal affairs is unacceptable and will further complicate the issue," said Ramin Mehmanparast at his weekly news conference in Tehran on Tuesday.

Just a few hours later, Bahrain recalled its ambassador in protest of what Bahraini officials described as "blatant interference" in its internal affairs by Tehran.

Bahraini government loyalists have sought to discredit the protest movement by alleging ties to Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The anti-government protest movement includes Shiite opposition parties who have complained of mistreatment at the hands of the Sunni-dominated government. Protesters maintain they are motivated by political, not sectarian, grievances, and deny any ties to foreign powers.

In Cairo, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured Tahrir Square on Wednesday, visiting the heart of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt after 30 years and shook the Middle East.

She strolled around the square, flanked by security officials, and shook hands with pedestrians, including a woman in a Muslim headscarf and an older man who said: "Welcome to Tahrir Square."

She replied: "Hi, how are you?"

In the early days of the uprising, which began on Jan. 25, the square was the scene of violent clashes between demonstrators and police, who failed to quell the revolt with their until then effective heavy-handed tactics.

The police where then withdrawn from the streets and the army was deployed, surrounding the square with tanks but staying on the sidelines. When protesters were charged by Mubarak supporters on camels and horses on Feb. 2 the army looked on.

But despite the clashes, demonstrations became both protests and festive gatherings of hundreds of thousands. After Mubarak quit on Feb. 11, hundreds of thousands gathered to celebrate his departure.

Much of the anti-Mubarak graffiti has been cleaned away, traffic again flows through the square where several thoroughfares meet and cobbled pavements are being repaired after they were torn up to provide projectiles.

Meanwhile, King Mohammed VI said Wednesday that Morocco will revise its constitution for the first time in 15 years, aiming to strengthen democracy in the face of a push across the Arab world.

In a rare TV and radio speech to the nation, the popular monarch said a new commission would suggest constitutional revisions to him by June, and the overall project would be put to Moroccan voters in a referendum.

"By launching the work of constitutional reform, we embark on a major phase in the process of consolidation of our model of democracy and development," said the king, wearing glasses, a sober black tie and a dark suit. He was flanked by his brother, Prince Moulay Rachid, and his 7-year-old son, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan.

Some Moroccans poured into the streets of Rabat, the capital, to celebrate after the speech, blaring car horns and waving the North African country's single-star flag.

But the overall reaction to the country's first constitutional revision since 1996, and the first since Mohammed VI took the throne following his father's death in 1999, wasn't immediately clear. The speech, which was only announced hours earlier, came as many people in the football-crazy country tuned in to watch the latest European Champions League contests.

A major question was whether the constitutional changes on tap will involve the highly contested Article 19, which largely underpins the near-absolute power that the king has in Morocco. It enshrines the monarch as "the defender of the faith" — Islam — and "guarantor of the perpetuation and the continuity of the state," as well as respect for the constitution.

Many labor unions, political parties and human rights groups have clamored for changes to the constitution for years, and Article 19 has been one of their main targets.

Still, the breadth of the king's address suggested a major reworking is in the offing.

The U.S. Statement Department welcomed the development.

"We fully support the aspirations of the Moroccan people in their efforts to further consolidate the rule of law, raise human rights standards, promote good governance and work toward long-term constitutional reform," said the statement read out by acting U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

The wide-ranging efforts aim in part to devolve greater power to Morocco's regions, improve the independence of courts, and ensure that the prime minister is selected by the majority party in parliament, he said.

The king said women's rights and political participation — already a mainstay of his previous reforms — would be strengthened, such as ensuring through law that men and women have equal access to elective positions.

The plan would aim to broaden individual freedoms, solidify the rule of law and strengthen human rights. The king also said he was committed to a "strong push" to revive the country's reform ambitions.

Morocco has so far avoided the persistent unrest that brought down regimes in fellow north African countries Tunisia and Egypt. Five people, however, died in violence linked to protests across the country on Feb. 20.

The main target of those protests was parliament, where many Moroccans fear their voices aren't heard. Few Moroccans question the monarchy, which has existed for centuries — and Mohammed enjoys broad admiration and respect.

The king did not make any direct reference to the upheaval that has swept across North Africa and elsewhere.

An ally of both Europe and the United States, Mohammed VI is widely seen as a reformer compared to his iron-fisted father Hassan II — though human rights in the country have faced criticism.

Last October, Human Rights Watch reported that suspects detained under Morocco's counterterrorism laws are routinely subjected to human rights violations. The government denied those allegations.