Bahrain orders military off streets of capital

Bahraini clerics pray at the Pearl roundabout after the military pulled out in Manama, Bahrain, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011. The deputy chief of Bahrain's armed forces has ordered the military to withdraw from the streets of the capital. Army tanks are moving out of Manama's Pearl Square as Bahrain's monarchy seeks to open negotiations with protesters. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar) (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

MANAMA, Bahrain -- Bahrain on Saturday ordered its military off the square in the capital that was the heart of an uprising against the Gulf nation's rulers, a key demand by the opposition for starting a dialogue in the political crisis.

Although it was not clear how protest leaders would respond to the move, some jubilant Bahrainis honked car horns, waved flags and flashed victory signs as the armored vehicles began moving away from Pearl Square.

An Associated Press photographer saw a contingent of riot police fire tear gas at people celebrating the army withdrawal from the square and detain at least 10 people.

It was not immediately clear if the tanks and other armored vehicles were headed back to military bases, or just pulling back from the square.

According to a government statement, the withdrawal order came from Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces and the member of the royal family who has been designated to open a dialogue with protest leaders.

The statement said he had ordered "the withdrawal of all military from the streets of Bahrain with immediate effect."

"The Bahrain police force will continue to oversee law and order," the statement said.

Thousands of marchers came under fire Friday as they tried to head toward the square. More than 50 were injured in the second consecutive day of clashes. Protesters took over Pearl Square earlier in the week, but they were driven out in a deadly assault Thursday.

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