MANAMA — Pro-democracy activists protested at the US embassy in Bahrain on Monday, calling for Washington to press the authorities for democratic reform after weeks of demonstrations.
About 1,000 demonstrators later massed outside the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Forensic Science in Manama, chanting anti-government slogans.
Dozens of activists gathered at a fence set up in front of the US embassy on Monday morning, chanting slogans against Bahrain's monarchy such as "The people want to topple the regime!"
The Gulf archipelago of some 1.2 million people is a strategic US ally and home to the United States Fifth Fleet. It has been ruled by the Al-Khalifa royal family for more than 200 years.
US embassy political officer Ludovic Hood brought a box of doughnuts for the demonstrators as they gathered down the street from the embassy ahead of the protest rally.
"These sweets are a good gesture, but we hope it is translated into practical actions," Mohammed Hassan, 35, who wore the white turban of a cleric, told Hood.
"The message we want to give is that this regime has to end, and the United States has to prove that it is with human rights, and the right for all people to decide (their) destiny," Hassan said to Hood.
"We are born free, and we want to live free."
Hood told the demonstrators who clustered around him that the United States had a "strategic relationship" with the government of Bahrain which included dialogue on human rights.
"We've had a US Navy presence here accepted by the great majority of people for many decades," he said.
"But part of our ongoing engagement with the government is discussions on human rights and universal rights."
He reiterated US support for an initiative from the government for national dialogue, saying that "we continue to think that engaging in some kind of talks is the right way forward."
US President Barack Obama last month extended US support for a "national dialogue" in the kingdom, saying it should be "inclusive, non-sectarian and responsive" to the people.
Obama's statement came a day after King Hamad reshuffled his cabinet, after earlier pardoning Shiite activists in response to protests.
Demonstrators at the embassy expressed doubts that dialogue would produce any concrete results, with one protester asking who would guarantee that promises were kept.
A letter given to Hood by 27-year-old activist Zainab al-Khawaja called for "the American administration (to) refrain from taking negative positions that contribute to the oppression and abuse of the people" of Bahrain.
On Monday afternoon, a crowd of demonstrators set out from Pearl Square, which has become the epicentre of anti-government protests, and marched to the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation, where they met up with other protesters.
The crowd of chanting protesters shook their fists at the building and waved Bahraini flags as police with riot shields watched from behind a gate.
The protesters then marched back to Pearl Square, where demonstrators continue to keep vigil in hundreds of tents.
Anti-government protests in the Shiite-majority country, which is ruled by a Sunni dynasty, entered their 22nd day on Monday, amid a wave of pro-democracy unrest that has gripped the region for weeks and toppled the autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia.
Official Bahraini opposition groups have stopped short of demanding outright regime change, instead calling for major reforms including an elected parliament "with full legislative powers."
Some demonstrators are also calling for extensive reforms, such as a change to a British-style constitutional monarchy where the monarch is limited to a largely ceremonial position, instead of regime change.
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