Shiites protest in Bahrain demanding democracy

Thousands of Shiites demonstrated in Bahrain on Friday to demand democratic reforms in the Gulf kingdom ruled by a Sunni dynasty, witnesses said.

"Khalifa! Step down," chanted protesters, referring to Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman, an uncle of King Hamad who has been in office since 1971 and is widely despised by the country's Shiite majority, they said.

The Shiite-led opposition has repeatedly demanded the prime minister be elected.

"Bahrain is in need of a large political plan... that takes the country into a new stage based on the rule of the people, not the rule of one family," opposition groups said in a statement following the protest in the village of Bilad al-Qadeem, southwest of Manama.

The opposition has joined a national dialogue with the government and other factions aimed at ending the kingdom's political crisis, but no breakthrough has yet emerged from talks that began last month.

The International Federation for Human Rights says around 80 people have been killed in Bahrain since violence first broke out on February 14, 2011 when thousands of protesters camped out in Manama's Pearl Square, taking their cue from the Arab Spring uprisings.

Bahraini security forces, boosted by Saudi-led Gulf troops, stormed the encampment in mid-March, 2011 and clamped down on protests across the country. But despite the deadly crackdown, protesters returned to the streets.