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Bahrain demonstrators return to protest site in capital after military withdraws
No evidence has emerged that Iran has had a hand in Bahrain's revolt. But regional fears that political reform in Bahrain benefits Iran's rise are guiding Saudi Arabia's response and forcing a cautious reaction from the White House.
And although Egyptians' call for President Hosni Mubarak's ouster reached near unanimity, Bahrain's Shiite-led protest movement is not as unified around the idea that the monarchy must go, and most in the minority Sunni population support the ruling family.
Demonstrators agree that political reform is needed urgently, but the opposition remains divided over whether that should begin or end with the Khalifa family's removal.
As al-Wefaq, the leading Shiite party, was meeting to consider the invitation to a dialogue, there were also reports that a top Bahraini Shiite cleric had urged his followers to stop demonstrating and return home.
In Bahrain, the unrest has rattled locals who are unaccustomed to such prolonged instability. Although Shiite-led demonstrations have been staged periodically over the past two decades, longtime Bahraini observers do not recall a government crackdown this severe.
The divide inside the country was apparent earlier Friday, before the clashes with demonstrators, as thousands of mostly Sunni supporters of the Khalifa family marched in a pro-government rally, waving the red-and-white Bahraini flag.
The crowd - predominantly Sunni Muslim Bahrainis or expatriates from countries such as India and Pakistan - carried pictures of the king and the prime minister and chanted slogans in favor of their continued rule.
"This is a lovely country. It's like a dream," said an Indian man with a Bahraini flag tied around his neck and draped down his back like a cape, who gave his name as Abdul Kareem.
Staff writers Scott Wilson and Greg Jaffe and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington and correspondents Anthony Faiola in London and Sudarsan Raghavan in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed to this report.