Thousands of singing and dancing protesters streamed back into Manama's central Pearl Square on Saturday after Bahrain's leaders withdrew tanks and riot police following a bloody crackdown by security forces in the tiny monarchy.
The royal family, which was quick to use force earlier this week against demonstrators in the landmark square that has been the heart of the anti-government demonstrations, appeared to back away from further confrontation following international pressure from the West.
The demonstrators had sought to emulate successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in attempting to bring political change to Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet — the centerpiece of Washington's efforts to confront Iranian military influence in the region.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, appealed for calm and political dialogue in a brief address on state TV.
A leader of Al Wefaq, the Shiite opposition group, said the crown prince "did the right thing" by withdrawing security forces from the streets and letting people return to Pearl Square.
"The crown prince opened the door for dialogue because he prevented more killing from occurring and allowed people to demand their rights," said the leader, Abdul-Jalil Khalil.
People circling through the square clapped, whistled and wept. Some wore white sheets symbolizing their readiness for martyrdom, while others carried Bahraini flags, flowers and signs that said "Peaceful."
"We are victorious!" they chanted as they marched back into the square that has been the headquarters for their revolt against the Sunni monarchy in the predominantly Shiite island nation.