- - Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pro-democracy protests intensified across the Arab world Sunday as demonstrators continued to demand an end to decades of despotic rule.

Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim ruling family came under increased pressure to open in-depth negotiations with the Shiite-led opposition as protesters erected more tents on the capital’s Pearl Square.

Dozens of workers joined the protesters, and more than 1,000 medics marched on the square to demand the resignation of the health minister, whom they accused of slowing aid to protesters during a deadly police crackdown.

An early-morning raid on the square on Thursday resulted in the deaths of four people before the army deployed in the capital. Protesters flocked back Saturday after the army was ordered to return to base.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged reforms in Washington’s Persian Gulf ally, where the U.S. 5th Fleet is based, and called violence against regime opponents “absolutely unacceptable.”

Bahrain had started on some reform, and we want to see them get back to that as quickly as possible,” she said in an interview recorded Friday for ABC’s “This Week” broadcast Sunday.

Thousands of people marched in cities across Morocco on Sunday to demand a new constitution that would bring more democracy to the North African kingdom.

In a march on central Hassan II Avenue in the capital Rabat, demonstrators shouted slogans calling for economic opportunity, educational reform, better health services and help in coping with rising living costs. The protests were the first to break out in Morocco.

Plainclothes police mingled among the demonstrators in Rabat, though police were generally discreet. No clashes between protesters and police were immediately reported.

A sea of white banners covered Casablanca’s rain-splattered Mohammed V square, where young men in baseball caps and hooded sweat shirts joined young women in Islamic heads carves and middle-aged women in black-rimmed glasses and earrings in a diverse crowd of demonstrators.

Yemen’s embattled president on Sunday sought a way out of the political crisis gripping his impoverished Arab nation as thousands marched on the capital.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh offered to open a dialogue with opposition groups, which rejected his appeal. Protests calling for his ouster continued in at least four cities across the country for the 11th straight day.

Tunisia’s interim government on Sunday asked Saudi Arabia to extradite deposed strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as it faced a second day of protests demanding its resignation.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s government made the official request to Riyadh, where Mr. Ben Ali fled on Jan. 14 with his family after weeks of popular revolt against his 23-year regime, said a foreign ministry statement cited by state news agency TAP.

Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci insisted that the protests that have infected the Arab world from the Middle East to North Africa will not destabilize his country.

“The domino effect is an invention on the part of the media, including that of Algeria which is very free. I don’t think it applies to Algeria. Algeria is not Egypt or Tunisia,” he told the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais.

He dismissed anti-government protests on Saturday when riot police clashed with demonstrators trying to gather on a main plaza, May 1 Square, in the center of the capital, Algiers.

Last week, journalists estimated that 2,000 demonstrators succeeded in gathering in the plaza but said they were prevented from starting a planned three-mile march to Martyrs Square.

“Already, they were prevented from marching, but they gathered in May 1 Square. According to reliable police data, there were no more than 500 people, to which you can add a few transients. It was demonstrated that the conveners are a minority,” said Mr. Medelci.

With the region in turmoil, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived for a weeklong visit to underscore support for key U.S. allies, a spokesman in Washington said Sunday.

Adm. Mike Mullen will visit Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. He also will stop in Djibouti, where demonstrators inspired by revolts that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia have clashed with riot police.

Adm. Mullen’s itinerary did not include Bahrain, a cornerstone of U.S. military power in the Gulf and the site of deadly clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces last week.

The United States regards Bahrain as a bulwark against the anti-American regime in Iran across the Gulf.

From combined dispatches

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